Johnnersintheraw's Blog

May 31, 2010

Armpits

The Agony and the Ecstasy and the Glories of the Perfect Pit.

I love armpits!  Quite simply, the armpits are the windows to the soul.  Not the eyes; after all, what are eyes but two little globs of jelly curtained from above and below by fringes of wispy fringes called lashes.  And the lashes are never compatible with the eyes themselves!  And part of this is because the eyes themselves are so randomly coloured.  And the colour charts from which the shades are chosen are so limited.  Why, they don’t even embrace all the colours of the rainbow.  Nor do they include such vibrant hybrids as magenta or mustard yellow or orange or Ferrari red.  And forget about zebra stripes or leopard spots or flashing neon lights or polka dots or panthers peering from round the irises.  Of course, some of these effects are possible with the aid of contact lenses; and in photographs one can always cheat and resort to computer imaging and photo-shop and even to cutting and pasting more interesting eyes into the slots formerly occupied by your own boring greyish blue jelly globs – in other words, the very eyes you have been trying to pass off as ‘baby blues’.  But that is not the same, is it. And it doesn’t even work, for the minute someone sees you in the flesh they notice how boring your face actually looks.  In fact, faced with the real non-existent colour of your eyes, they can’t even find your face in order to look into it.  And so then and there you lose your evening’s entertainment.

Of course, it goes without saying that if you always wear the colours that supposedly enhance your eyes, at least they will notice the vividness of your shirt.  But, on the other hand, such a technique does limit your choice of wardrobe.  For example, my eyes are your basic, washed-out greyish blue.  They are, in fact the original invisible eyes.  If I am willing to wear certain darkish bright blue shirts – the ones I loathe because they make me feel as though I am trying to pass myself off as a banker – you can almost see that I really do have eyes.  That is, if the light is right and I am drunk enough that my eyes are lined with red.  And as for mascara and eye-liner, don’t kid yourself.  The only time they work is if you’ve got amazing eyes to begin with.  Otherwise you look like Bozo the Clown.

No one with eyes like mine could ever be a Latin lover or a Corsican bandit or a Sheikh or – for that matter – a movie heart-throb.  Latin lovers, by definition, cannot be invisible. They must have flashing eyes.  The same with Corsican bandits, and even more so with the sort of desert Sheikh played by Rudolf Valentino and Ramon Navarro – the truly smouldering sheikhs that used to kidnap the dainty blond heroines in the movies (before the coming of sound and colour sucked out the audiences’ souls and replaced them with 3-D glasses). The one thing all these heart-throbs of yesteryear had in common were eyes like flashing black diamonds, illuminated from within by the light of the moon.  The second you stared into those limpid black pools of desire, you knew what was next on the menu.  And it wasn’t called the blue plate special. It was called “Va Va Voom!”  It was called the sort of sex that was better dreamed about than displayed on the screen. It was called, “Oh, fuck! I wish (pant pant pant) he would leap out of the screen on his white charger and take me right here on the cinema floor on top of the spilled popcorn and candy-wrappers!”

Never mind that – in the case of those smouldering Sheikhs – once they had kidnapped the fair damsel (usually a simpering blond with a palpitating heart such as Agnes Ayers) they took her back to live in their mother’s tent in the oasis – where she was doomed to spend the rest of her life beating the carpets and hanging out the wash and churning out babies every week and a half.  But the movies never showed that side of things – and wouldn’t until the 1960s and Ken Loach and ‘Poor Cow’.

Needless to say, Rudolf Valentino and his ilk cut a wide berth around the likes of Theda Bara, for she was a temptress who would have eaten him for breakfast and taken him home to live in the brothel with her  mother, where he would have had to do a great many other things besides scrubbing the floors.  In fact, poor ol’ Rudolph did finally come a cropper with a certain Alla Nazimova. And the upshot was that he died.  In other words, his eyes stopped flashing. And this only shows that you should never stray from the profile assigned you by the computer.  And it also proves that once your eyes stop flashing, you might as well be the parking attendant. Whereas, if you’ve got pits to die for you can always climb out of your coffin and become an unspeakably pitiless vampire.

Let me just add this before we move on.  Yes, Rudolf Valentino died.  And he died when he was still gorgeous and still had a glimmer of flashing, smouldering eyes that burned like charcoals; however, if he hadn’t died in tragic circumstances and prematurely, no one would remember him. You see, flashing eyes can only take you so far!  What they need to ensure immortality is a breath of scandal and a really great funeral with women in black hurling themselves on to the coffin.  Otherwise, as soon as you’re buried you’re yesterday’s news and your family won’t be able to make any money from the sale of your relics.  Just look at poor old Ramon ‘Who’s he’ Navarro.  He was a sheikh with flashing eyes just a rung on the ladder below Valentino. But nobody remembers him.  And the reason no one does is that he didn’t die a tragic death, did he?  Well, actually he did, but by the time he was brutally murdered, he was just an old, washed-up has-been who’d used up all his money buying rent-boys.  Needless to say, not a single woman swathed in black and festooned with jet even attended his funeral, much less swooned over his coffin.  And do you know why?  Because by the time he was dead, his flashing eyes were more like week-old dead slugs.  And nobody even knew or cared whether he had any pits at all.

Believe me when I say that the woods are full of screen sirens and pop idols with flashing eyes who forgot to die when they should have.  But as I said before, you’ve got to keep with the program!  For eyes dry up, and once the light has gone out of them, they might just as well have had invisible and boring grey-blue eyes just like mine.  And after a point, not even fluorescent contact lenses and spot lights will bring them to life again.

Now, there are some – not many – heart-throbs who are lumbered with invisible eyes.  And sometimes they even have boring invisible pale skin and hair the colour of mouse turds.  In fact, some of them are even cursed with colouring like mine.  In other words, whole-body invisibility. Such people were invariably called ‘Minger’ in school – unless, of course, they were cursed with even the slightest hint of salmon pink in their hair (and especially when that hair was growing on a pair of exuberantly forested milk-white legs), in which case they were stuck with the ‘Ginger’ label.  And sometimes if you had both things going for you at the same time you really did develop an issue with your parents; in other words, why didn’t they think to match their colour-charts before ‘doing it’? I almost fitted into that category, but then I shaved my leg-hair and it grew back a nice, flat mousey brown.  Just think, I just missed out on rejoicing in that wonderful double-barrelled nickname of ‘Ginger-Minger’ (and no, it is not pronounced ‘jinjer-minjer’). 

Yes, I admit there are a few career paths open to us mingers and ginger-mingers.  I mean, there are certainly job openings galore if what you crave is an action-packed life as an insurance adjuster or an assistant manager in Walmart or even one of the valued associates at Disney World who lives inside a Mickey Mouse costume.  But if you have your heart set on being a professional childminder or lollypop man, forget it.  Everyone will look at you and know you are both a paedophile and a psychopathic killer.  And very possibly a serial rapist, as well – because as everybody knows – ginger-mingers (unlike Latin lovers with flashing eyes) are always lacking in that certain ‘department’ located in their Y-fronts.  Using the same logic, ginger-mingers are – it goes without saying – psychopaths.  Or at least neurotic whiners who should be placed on the sex-offenders list on the day of their birth.

This is why every single mass-murderer and serial rapist you see in the movies has got those horrible, washed-out, invisible greyish-blue eyes.  And the actors portraying them can never get any other type of role, which makes some of them so depressed that they go on to become paedophiles in real life.

But as I was about to say before I interrupted myself, there are certain invisibly pale and boring would-be heart-throbs (the original models for the stealth bomber) who manage to become heart-throbs in spite of the fact that nobody ever manages to see them.  And do you know why?  Because of their armpits.  Because if they have great armpits, nobody ever looks at their boring and invisible eyes or at their washed-out complexions or at their lank and greasy ‘just-this-side-of-gingery’, dirty-looking hair.

As I said before, armpits are the windows to the soul.  Gaze into a perfect armpit and you are sucked into a forest of delights.  You become a child again, fantasizing about a secret garden outside your bedroom window.  Armpits as they should be are the true objects of desire that have inspired every poet from Ovid to Byron to Keats and Brooke, and right down to the present day.  And whenever in a sacred text, the Garden of Eden is mentioned, what they are describing is the most perfect, the most sublime and most glorious armpit ever created.

There are certain thespians that have based their entire careers on the beauty and the purity-of-line of their armpits.  One example that springs to mind is an American film actor named Ethan Hawke. Now, as far as I know he is a quite a decent actor.  And as far as I know he is even fairly attractive to look at.  But what I do know is that the camera is in love with his armpits.  At least that used to be the case.  But, of course, he is older now, which means his armpits might not so alluring.  And he might have even let them go to pot.  If so, this is undoubtedly the reason we don’t see as many of his films as we used to.  For in the olden days, when his armpits were in their prime and you simply wanted to bury yourself in their depths, there would come a moment in each and every one of his movies when he would be wearing a singlet or a similar garment.  At the climax of this moment, the lights would focus on his torso, and Ethan Hawke would raise his arms and place his hands in back of his head.  And his perfectly sculpted and contoured armpits would make your heart explode.  Never before or since have there been armpit ‘moments’ to equal these.  And I still dream about them. And as for his eyes, I do not have a clue what colour they were.  For in every single film he made, it was all about his armpits.

One of the great recent armpit movies was ‘Benjamin Button’ starring Brad Pitt.  I don’t know if anyone else noticed, but the way the filmmakers tracked the shifting ages of the protagonist was through the shifting character of his armpits.  And that means, of course, through the shifting nature not only of the contours, but of his armpit hair.  For as the character got younger, so his armpits became more beautiful – until you got to the point when he was a teenager, and the sheer loveliness of his fragrant gardens was almost heartbreaking.  And if you don’t believe me, rent the move and see for yourself.

Now I admit I am neglecting women’s armpits (and God only knows there are more of those than there are stars in the sky – except in Muslim countries, where they don’t have any).  And I admit they do have their attractions.  Mostly razor-burns or white skid marks from using the wrong deodorants.  And I will never deny having certain prejudices where armpits are concerned.  However – and, yes, there is always a however – a perfect armpit is only perfect on a tight-knit body and for a certain number of years.  For the most part – setting aside the inevitable beaches where all the wrong sorts of armpits are on display from both sexes – men, after a certain age – which means the age when their muscles start to turn to flab and their bodies are best seen after twilight and covered in a boiler suit – tend not to flaunt their armpits in public quite as much as they did when they had something that was worth flaunting.  Unless, of course, we are talking about those members of the human race who sit on their barstools attired in cut offs and string vests, or about certain naturists who leave their vanity in the locker with their clothing; but if they are happy then so am I.   And then there are those who have never been introduced to soap. In which case, they have coal pits.  And as we all know, you venture into a coal pit at your own risk.

Men – with certain well-known exceptions – namely the aforementioned bar stool sitters and those who stopped developing after their high school football careers had ended – do have a certain over-wheening vanity when it comes to their bodies.  And especially where their armpits are concerned (we will deal with stomachs at a later date).

Woman, on the hand, while they be as vain as men in many areas, have a blind spot when it comes to their armpits.  It is as simple as that.  They don’t seem to understand that a young, firm and succulent armpit can be displayed without shame.  However, does that mean they should exhibit their nakedness and their razor-burns whenever they brush their hair back from their eyes?  In fact, an armpit – which is after all, a sexual organ – should never be flaunted; it should be discovered.  However, many women – from the moment they dress themselves in sleeveless tops – do nothing but flaunt their armpits.  In fact, very often one sees much more of their armpits than ones does of their faces.  How sad it is that they don’t stop  pumping Botox into their phizogs, thus making them resemble weather balloons; after all, the only things they are displaying to the gathered assembly are a set of armpits that are – by then – well-past their sell-by date.  And there is nothing Botox can do about them.

I won’t go so far as saying it’s a fetish, but if I had a choice between burying my face in a freshly sweating armpit (and notice I used a form of the word ‘fresh’) and a man’s groin (equally fresh, it goes without saying) I would opt for the armpit every time.

I admit that my behaviour can at times border on the embarrassing. For if I am with a man whose armpits are symphonies of delight, I simply cannot concentrate on anything he says.  This was – alas – true of the last two horse-trainers I worked under.  Both of them were in their mid-thirties, and both – it goes without saying – were extremely fit.  Both had magnificently toned torsos… and both of them had the most outrageously succulent armpits I had seen in years.  And, no, I never saw either of them shirtless; after all, we were occupied with other things – such as schooling jumpers.  But when the weather was warm, both would wear short-sleeves shirts.  And I almost could not contain myself.  It was pure eroticism of the highest order.  All I can say is it’s a good thing for me that it is armpits that mesmerise me.  After all, if you are working with a straight man and insist on drooling at his crotch, he will eventually get slightly suspicious. But with armpits you are safe.  You can stare at them for days and all your co-worker will think is that you are concentrating on what he is saying. And looking thoughtful.  Of course, now that I’ve blown my cover by writing this, every man I know will go round with his arms strapped to his waist.  Just to spite me.

What else can I say about armpits?  Naturally, they should be clean.  Yes, the armpit owner might want to use a small amount of anti-perspirent, but don’t glob it on.  And don’t put it on before sex – unless, of course, the thought of my scrubbing your pits with a Brillo pad is what yanks your chain.  And if you’ve got a rainforest denser that the entire Amazon delta you might want to check it now and then for borrowing rodents or for one of the lost tribes of Israel.  And if you sweat profusely and have been working all day in the blistering heat, please don’t shove your pits into my face unless you want to get kneed.  The smell of fresh sweat is one thing; the rancid stench of the abattoir is quite another.

And please, men and women and Walmart shoppers, remember the following politically incorrect statement: after anyone has gained a certain amount of weight (yes, that’s what I said), an armpit ceases to be an armpit and becomes something that might as well be two sweaty halves of a hamburger bun with crab-grass or poppy-seeds in the middle.  Now, there is nothing wrong in this; we all have weight problems at some point in our lives.  Just don’t persist in thinking that what was at one time an erogenous zone is still one of your main attractions.  It is not.  It’s like trying to pass off Gary Glitter as the star of ‘Glitter’. And for God’s sake, if you have put on a few tonnes and you do lose your pits, don’t go on pretending you still have them.  You won’t fool anyone.  And while I may still stare at them, it won’t be from lust, but because I will be trying to figure out if a pit actually existed there at one time, or if you were simply born with a lump of bread dough proofing under each arm.

Ah! Pits, glorious pits, pits of the evening, beautiful pits.  Pits are like the sweetest, rarest fragrance.  Know the power of your pits!  Even if they are as clean and as pristine as a midsummer’s morn, don’t just go shoving them into a person’s face – not even a person like me, who loves a good pit to distraction.  A pit that is sublime must be approached like an exotic perfume or a very, very fine wine.  Or an exquisite bouillabaisse on which you are planning to dine.

Remember, with a pit that is perfect and with a person like you that knows what to do with a perfect pit, it is not a quick bump or grind or a “howdy do, ma’am, I hope you don’t mind” but a veritable feast of the senses.  So give each pit an hour, or perhaps even two, and you’ll break down all their owner’s defences.

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May 30, 2010

BadSmells

What happens when God has too much time on His hands.

I am so sick and tired of smelly people.  I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive, and I’m certainly not discriminating against those who have a medical condition.  And I’m bloody well not complaining about anyone who is not in a position to wash.  For whatever reason.  But maybe I am.  I have lived in a lot of places on this benighted earth of ours, including many sinkholes where there has been practically no water to speak of, as well as in places where the only sources of water have been near open drains.  But you know something?  The fewer facilities people seem to have, the harder they work to keep themselves clean.  To put it this way, in most of the worst favelas in the world there is not a lot of body odour.  I am not generalising, I’m simply stating the reality as experienced through my own olfactory organs.

Now, I have crossed large tracks of desert by camel and on horseback, and few were the times when the Taureg or Bedouin guides were even as smelly as I.  They simply knew how to keep themselves clean.  And, yes, religion did have its part to play, for in their world-view a man must wash himself before each of the five daily prayers.  And if there is no water with which he can cleanse himself, he will use sand.  And the sand in the desert is nothing if not clean – for it is swept and polished by the winds ever moment of its life.  Remember this: O! Ye Westerners!  There is nothing dirty about dirt except what we ourselves put into it.  The rest is in our minds.

The Arab mania for personal hygiene  has not gone unnoticed by travellers over the centuries who have been ‘scandalised’ by the amount of water being ‘wasted’; to them survival was and is more important than having a clean bottom and well-trimmed toenails.  Call it a conflict of cultures.  For the guides to which I was referring – good Muslims all – it was to their God that they prayed, and it was for their God that that they washed themselves clean.  On the other hand, those being guided by these nomads of the desert had a completely opposite point of view.  To hell with how filthy you were; you needed the water for drinking.  And it was also for the animals that carried you.  But as far as the latter complaint was concerned, the guides would simply shrug their shoulders and look amused.  For God would take care of the camels and horses.  Hadn’t He provided wells in places no European could find but of which they themselves were aware.  And as for the survival of the guides themselves – and even for their European tourists (for that matter) – “Insh’Allah.”

It is very bizarre, is it not; two Gods who are supposedly one God, even though the fact that some people can’t get it through their thick heads that one of these one Gods – the one they call ‘Allah’ – is really the same God as the other God, the one they call ‘God’ – the only difference being that ‘Allah’ means ‘God’ in Arabic, whereas ‘God’ means ‘God’ in English.  But, of course, he’s called something else in Judaism, but since as far as I know it’s not a name that can be mentioned – or even written down where somebody can see what it is actually spelled like, I’m not going to get involved.  Let us just say that this third God, which is really the same one God as the other two Gods, is not called ‘Jehovah’.  It only sounds like it, which is why it is often written that way in certain Bibles that don’t spell anything the same way as other Bibles do.  It’s called doing your own thing.  And in the words of many a lawmaker in certain countries who has tried to have English declared the ‘official’ language, “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for us!”

Is it any wonder that God switches off his hearing aid when we talk to Him?  After all, with so many people yelling at Him and calling him so many different names, what is a God to do?  He gets even.

And do you want to know how he gets even?  Well, first of all He creates us in His own image, or He doesn’t in the two cases where He doesn’t have any image of Himself to use as a model – in which case, He doesn’t create us to look like anything at all.  In other words, in two out of the three cases, he wings it.  And when He doesn’t like the result, he invents the burkha.

So far, so good.  Are you still with me?

What He does next – in fact, I believe all three of Him does it – is to pronounced Himself satisfied.  Or at least He does in two out of the three cases, for in the third case he apparently got tired of repeating Himself and simply skipped all that redundant ‘patting Himself on the back’ nonsense and went straight to the meat of the matter.  You know, where He starts to lecture us on the fact that women were put on earth to be virgins forever and ever, or at least until a man chooses to get tired of little boys and decides  to marry them and take them home to keep house for his mother?  And to beat the carpets on the balcony and scrub the floors and hang out the wash?  And of course, having been de-virginised, the wife is no longer a virgin but only used merchandise, so she might as well do something to earn her keep by churning out at least one baby per week.  And if she cannot even manage that, then her poor husband will have to make do with marrying as many wives as there are stars in the sky. And he will continue on doing this until he has used up all the virgins on the planet.  And when they are all used up, and he still hasn’t had a really first-class de-virginising experience, he is forced to start marrying his brother’s widows.  After all, he knows his brother had forgotten to fill his Viagra prescription.  And hence, there’s a chance his brother’s wives might be virgins after all.  But, as even un-de-virginised de-virginised used virgins are wont to be, they are still like used cars. In other words, there’s dog shit on the retreads. This means they have betrayed him and he is, therefore, obliged to stone them for pretending to be virgins even though they were virgins but had been diddled once or twice by his brother before he had died of a surfeit of figs. For having once been diddled, these pseudo-virgins knew what the company of a man was like.  So he didn’t have a choice, did he?  It was stoning or nothing – after all, there is an ‘Only Virgins Allowed’ policy in heaven, and by this time she’s old enough to nag. Anyway, after he has finished with that task, he then proceeds to the widows and orphans of the village. Of course, most of those widows – based on the fact that they will have had children – will have been de-virginised at some point or other.  And by a man who was not he. Sadly, that will mean they are probably the most soiled of all de-virginised ex-virgins, and need to be stoned as well. Fortunately for him, the ten year old sons of the defiled, de-virginised widows (the ones who have just been stoned for not being virgins when they seduced him into marriage), will be virgins themselves. If you know what I mean.  And so, it will end happily for everyone.  As they say, “Amen.” And so endeth the first lesson, the one in which the third God who was the one God, skipped the part about being satisfied.

And now, let us proceed to the other two Gods who were the one God, but who had been satisfied.  On the whole, these two Gods of the one God felt they hadn’t done too bad a job. That is, considering the calibre of their workers and the fact that the clay that had been given  had already been used once in the studio of Michelangelo (and we all know what that means – it had been used for something quite different than that for which God had originally intended clay to be used).  However, in case of one of the Gods of the one God – the one who was camera shy like the one God of the one God who had glossed over the bit about being satisfied – He had decided in a fit of pique (possibly because His wife had slipped with her scissors and had not only rounded the edges of his beard but had chopped off His foreskin) that He wouldn’t use Himself as a model at all and instead, He would make His offspring in the image of something called an ‘Isaac’ (which was the name His had given to His pet baby goat).

Needless to say, this version of the story ended in guilt and in great gnashing of the teeth and rending of the hair.  For this particular one God of the one God had had a dream. Only, not having a picture of Himself to use as a reference, this particular God of the one God couldn’t be sure if it was about Himself or about someone else – perhaps even about a fourth God of the one God that nobody had heard about yet. And so He went over to the house of one of the many identical men with long beards (for those were before the days when Michelangelo was able to paint men with different faces).  He commanded this man with the beard to go out and sacrifice Isaac.  Little did he realise that the word ‘Isaac’ no longer meant ‘goat’, but instead was the name of the old man-with-the-beard’s first-born son. But being that the old man had had personal experience with what happens when you don’t do what any of the one Gods want you to do (after all, he had been in Sodom shopping for lentils and had had to flee for his life), he said, “Why the Hell not.  I’m only five thousand years old – I can always make another son.  And even a spare.” And so he grabbed his son by the scruff of the neck and took him up on top of a hill and tied him to a burning bush.  Now, because the burning bush cast the only light for miles around, this particular one God among the one God saw what the old man with the beard had done.  And he was annoyed. “Holy fuck,” he said. “Not only have I created a whole bunch of ugly people, but I have created the first idiot as well.” And so what He did was run up the hill after the old man with the beard, but He was too late.  For He had been wearing a pair of too-large Crocs and had gotten a thorn stuck between His rock and his hard place.  And since it hurt like Hell and He was forced to change out of His Crocs and into a pair of cheap Chinese flip-flops, he got to the burning bush just as the old man had sliced off Isaac’s head with a carving knife.  Now, God was not happy about this, and he said some very unkind words to the old man with a beard and ordered him and all his descendants to be bowed down with guilt and bad suffering and an eternity of eating matzoh-ball soup.  But then, after He had sent the old man with the beard away with his head cast down, and with the head of his son on his head – shining like a beacon in the darkness – this particular one God of the one God remembered that since nobody knew what anybody looked like – having been created in the image of Him that didn’t have a graven image, no one else would know the difference between a he-goat and the son of the old man with the beard.  So He pretended that the goat – who was still alive and munching happily on the burning bush – was really the son of the old man and that the son with the shining head was really the goat.  After all, they were both named Isaac.

And so this particular episode ended reasonably satisfactorily. Except of course, this one God of the only God had already told the old man with the beard to go forth and multiply and fill the earth with people with shame and guilt and misery in their hearts. And since the old man with the beard had already fulfilled his part of the bargain, this particular one God of the one God decided that – to make up for it – the least He could do was to make all His sons ‘doctors’.

Now, the third only God of the only God looked down on everything the parts of Himself had created and He was sore afraid.  And He decided that He did not want to make those particular mistakes again.

And so what He did was command that He should be visible after all.  Now, He really was quite an impressive-looking God – at least according to the preliminary sketches carried out by Michelangelo.

Anyway, unlike the other two Gods of the one God, this particular one God of the one God actually knew what He looked like. Therefore, He had it in mind to create some really great looking people.  No beards for a start.  And beautiful strong chins.  Long muscular necks.  Flashing eyes with long lashes.  And bodies so beautiful that this one God of the one God decided to invent the gym so that the beautiful bodies wouldn’t end up looking like the old man with the beard.  And He also commissioned Michelangelo to carve a statue of what the perfect man should look like.  Except, of course, when the statue was being delivered, one of the postal employees tried to push it through the letter box without waiting for the butler to answer the door.  Sadly, the original willy – which looked and sounded rather like a neon inflated pig’s bladder singing Verdi’s ‘Anvil Chorus’ – was knocked off and smashed to pieces.  And since Michelangelo’ assistant only had a teeny tiny piece of marble in his pocket, he glued it on in its place.

This particular God of the one God then sat down and had a good think. And what He came up with was this: since, in His estimation, He had done such a splendid job (even taking into account the ‘willy business’), why didn’t He relax and make life a whole lot easier for Himself by creating two more parts to Himself.  A son and a Holy Ghost.  After all, He was lonely, being the only God of the one God to have a face to look at. But then He started to worry and fret.  What if people – who after all had very small heads without very much room for actual brains – started to confuse Him with the other two Gods of the one God.

“I know!” he said. “I shall make all of us one Gods of the one God hate each other.  And since the people are as stupid as they are, they will forget that we are all the same God – only that one of us has an English name, one of us has an Arabic name, and one of us doesn’t have any name at all – and they will get down to the business of slaughtering each other. Possibly even until the end of time – which would save Us (the one God of the one God) from having to come up with any more stupid ideas.”

And it worked.  And that is why the world is as it is today.

But let’s get back to the question of cleanliness.  From the beginning all of the three Gods in the one God had difficulties when it came to His relationships with women.  After all, He may have been the one God in the one God (plus the Son and the Holy Ghost in one case) but He was still a man.  He suffered from erectile dysfunction.  He was obsessed with size (having had to altar his design specifications after the business with the statue of the ‘perfect man’).  He suffered from crotch rot.  He suffered from unsightly boils.  He suffered from halitosis.  He had corns from wearing ill-fitting Crocs.  He had liver spots.  And he had a much younger wife who was attractive to other Gods much more attractive than He. And He simply couldn’t take the embarrassment.  After all, what was the use of being the one God, if you were not perfect?  And the thing is, women were not afraid to tell Him He was not perfect!

He looked at His wife, who was busily peeling grapes for Adonis, and He said to Himself under His breath, “Party time is over!

He went straight into His study; He looked through His book of curses until He found just what He was looking for: a curse to end all curses.  And it was so nasty He simply called it The Curse.

And talking about bad smells, this piece is now at an end.

May 29, 2010

SmartHouses

What you build when you really like washing windows.

One reads all these wonderful stories about ‘smart houses’, and about everything they can do.  All the functions under the sun.  But can they burn your toast for you?  I bet they cannot.  And the reason they cannot is that some over-qualified four-year-old in Stanford (the one that wears Egyptian cotton short-sleeve button-downs that only look like they are cheap polyester blend so he’ll fit in) has programmed them only to make politically-correct, golden brown slices of all-grain – with sourdough spores grown in the Valle de Luna. And on each tasteless, carbonless slice, the house will spread just the ‘right’ microscopic amount of lo-cal, lo-carb, lo-fat, no-feed-flavour, oxygenated, organic butter (from the milk of sheep on the Faroe Islands that have never seen the front-side of a shepherd), and also the ‘right’ microscopic amount of sugarless organic beebleberry conserve with seeds that that contain a full day’s supply of leafy green vegetables and no red meat.

‘Smart Houses!  Ah – those wonders of the new twenty-first century – all wired up, every need and eventuality catered for, all sorts of bells and whistles.  They’ve got radiant heating and high-tech insulation and heat-sensitive walls.  Everything one could possibly want is not only available with the touch of a keypad, but in some cases in seems the occupant merely has to think of an image and – presto! – the house obliges.  And I am not merely talking about the usual common or garden conveniences such as vacuum cleaners and window washers and floor polishers and dog groomers and coffee-makers.  Because, believe it or not, ‘smart houses’ can even anticipate every one of your sexual peccadilloes du jour (even the most obscure ones that would get you executed in some countries).  Everything your mind and body desires – all in perfect three-dimensional holograms with not a single detail left out.  Why the house can even produce any flavour of vaginal yeast or toenail fungus under the sun if that is your pleasure.  And STDs?  No problem.  Does a tropical rash under your scrotum turn you on?  Easy-peasey.

The only thing that a ‘smart house’ sex function does not do well is inflatable-doll holograms – the kind that deflates as soon as you get going. Or really boring missionary position holograms that can compile a shopping list while you grunt and groan.  However, they can come up with a hologram with a voice like a corn-crake that nags you about taking out the garbage right as you are about to achieve an orgasm.   

One thing you will never find in a ‘smart house’ is an entertainment centre. The whole ‘smart house’ itself can fulfil every one of your heart’s desires – so what need is there for some outmoded leftover from the middle ages?  At the very mention of such a thing, I can hear your fibulator fibulate. And you would be quite right to gasp and to clutch your throat and even have the vapours.  After all, entertainment centres are sooooo noughties, dahling.  Can you even remember those monstrosities – with all their wires forever getting snarled and the sixteen remote controls that you were always getting mixed up?  Entertainment centres?  Now what were they?  I remember!  They were those gigantic pieces of cabinetry with all those strange flattish boxes that you couldn’t tell apart, as well as the twenty-five sub-woofers strategically positioned around the room and always placed wherever you would have preferred a table on which to set your frozen banana daiquiris.  Entertainment centres always had as their centrepiece a 200-inch flat-screen television with ten-thousand channels – all playing re-runs of Friends and Drake and Josh, as well as those headline news updates that repeated the same stories over and over every half-hour on the half hour – news stories, of course, that your local focus group had chosen just for your house and for the demographics of its occupants.  It goes without saying that each and every entertainment centre of that bygone era of 2008 A.D. took up so much space that you had to build a separate room called a ‘private theatre’ (but which in the prehistoric and Neolithic 1990s used to called a recreation room or a family room (or even the spare-room or – if you had a sense of irony and came from an old family, the ‘day nursery’). And before that, back before even the dinosaurs had been invented by Charles Darwin, there was usually some sort of multi-purpose room with sliding glass doors leading out to a patio on which stood one of those rickety antediluvian barbeques with tripod legs.  And, then of course, inside this multi-purpose room there was a drinks trolley – or even a portable Formica wet-bar – for dispensing shandies and even Babychams (for those special occasions such as that once-in-a-lifetime, 2-for-1 discount on circumcisions from Dr. Bleibner Winkel’s ‘Cut and Slice and Dice Moilerarium – for all those males in your family who had pretended to be little girls at birth, and thus had escaped the procedure right at the beginning, when – according to those doing the snipping it – it was less painful.  Not that they ever asked the snippees.

But so much for ancient history; let us leap forward to the year of Our Lord 2008 and those all-important, all-consuming, all-devouring entertainment centres. It goes without saying, each and every one of these essential organs for a ‘modern lifestyle’ (rather more important that your second kidney) had  – at its core –  the latest version of a Sky-Box or a TiVo, those nifty little gadgets-in-a-box that – providing you had a two-year-old son or daughter to program and set them for you – could schedule each and every minute of your day around those particular episodes of Friends and Drake and Josh and CSI – Guantanamo and Lost that your personal focus group had determined were most beneficial to your biorhythms.  Which reminds me, has anyone else noticed that the demise of Friends corresponded with the rise of Facebook?  For although you’ve probably never bothered to think about this, Facebook has a business plan almost identical to the five thousand scripts of Friends, which are in actual fact  the same script only using different camera angles to pick up the differing nuances of Rachel’s hair. I mean, was she going to flip it to the left?  Or was she going to flip it to the right?  Or was she going to surprise us all and flip it first to the left and then to the right?  

In fact, the very business model of Facebook shows how fiendishly clever its developers really are. What they do is to allow each and every subscriber on Facebook the exact same number of friends that there were episodes of Friends.  Furthermore, in the case of both the social networking site and the television program, no one has ever actually met any of the friends involved. They only think they have; it’s all smoke and mirrors.

Now let’s come to the question of deletions and cancellations.  For as the sitcom was practically cancellation-proof (until the network could no longer afford new extensions for Rachel’s hair), so too can it be next to impossible to delete one of your five thousand friends on Facebook.  First of all, let’s say you decide to hit the ‘delete’ button – after all, why not?  It’s not that you’ve ever heard of any one of your friends in the first place, let alone met them face-to-face or invited them to one of your famous ‘Sex & Sushi in the Sauna’ parties. However, they immediately take umbrage and get all whiny; they write you very weepy, clingy messages asking what have they ever done to deserve to be thrown out in the cold like Lillian Gish in ‘Way Down East’?  Well, first of all you feel terrible – after all, this particular friend is probably the only person, other than yourself, who has even heard of Lillian Gish.  And this alone almost makes you relent.  And then, full to the gunnels with guilt (unless you’re neither Catholic nor Jewish, in which case you are probably both heartless and a used-car salesman who would sell your own mother on eBay), you are by now so bowed down with misery that you take the easy way out.  And  rather than simply ignoring this dispossessed creep of a friend (who will in any case worm her way back in through the ‘friend of a friend’ back door and will – before you know it – be back on your friends list), you end up writing her a nice little note apologising for your brutality, but explaining that you cannot accept the two-thousand additional friend applicants – all of which might be more useful in your climb from the bowels of bankruptcy than a loser like her – unless you dump some of the dead-wood (namely her).  But then the trouble starts in earnest.  For these rejected friends decide to report you for stalking, at which point your only option is to let them back in – simply because nothing’s worth their whining on your wall or their relentless campaign wherein they send you five thousand separate special gifts of the only sort of flower that gives you an allergy attack – the ‘five thousand miles of bindweed sent directly to your garden’ gift.

And you wonder why no one has any free time to enjoy themselves.   

This is all too reminiscent of the situation when you are summarily fired from the job you despised and which you were no good at and from which you wished you had the courage to resign. Only now, because you were fired, you finally have a way to bankroll your future.  And so you will sue your employer for the sort of damages that will support you for the rest of your life.  But then, because you really never learned to consider the consequences of your actions, you can’t bring yourself to take the dosh and leave well-enough alone.  NO!  You have suddenly developed a sense of injured pride, and so what you do is to sue your old employer in order to get your old job back again.  Now, remember, this is the same dead-end job you had been trying to get fired from ever since you got fired from your previous  job at Dunkin Donuts for eating the entire  inventory of rainbow sprinkles.  But much to your surprise, they call your bluff.  They say, “welcome back, sucker.” And so, back you go, taking your photograph of your little dog and your potted begonia and – before you know it -you have settled back behind your desk.  

However, you soon find you can never go home again.  You see, the only reason your old boss hired you back is because it was an easy and affordable way to get you off his back.  And also because his insurance company told him it would cancel the company’s policy unless he rehired you.  And so, your employer re-instates you.  Only this time the boss places your desk where the supervisors can watch every move your make.  This means you actually have to work – no more looking at porn sites and no more Facebook on the company’s time and no more free cups of coffee from the executive kitchen and no more Friday afternoons’ pretending to be sick so you can go home early.  So, there you are: you and your moral victory are stuck in your craw for the rest of your live.  And what is more, you can never shirk again or even wear the wrong colour tie.  And the reason why you cannot shirk (or wear the wrong colour tie) is that you are now being observed by an FBI informant; every move you make will be recorded on secret video cameras (including those times when your boss is giving you instructions for a new way to colour-code paper clips, during which you are taking the opportunity to masturbate with one hand under the desk, whilst taking notes with the other – AND appearing to be aroused by your latest assignment). Who said men cannot multi-task?  Eventually, of course, your dossier grows so vast that the company is compelled to build an extra vault.  At which point – because masturbating whilst taking notes is not mentioned in the Employment Act – your boss has still not been able to come up with a valid reason for firing you.  This means that the two of you will be together for the rest of eternity and beyond.  Unless, of course, he gets the inspiration to file adoption papers. This, quite naturally, thrills you to bits because you have been checking into his accounts and you know to the penny what he is worth.  Just think!  You will be a rich man’s son.  And only that, but you won’t have to work for the bastard anymore! The bylaws clearly state that non-executive employees cannot be related to any executive of the company.  At least!  A win-win situation.  And for YOU!

But then again, sadly, Mister Stupid strikes again.  You simply could not resist having that double sixty-nine with both your boss’s twins, could you?  And right in the swimming pool.  And right at the moment your boss and his new wife (the buxomly luscious blond bimbo proclaimed ‘Miss Honey-Wagon’ at the 2009 County Farm-Implement Show) were expecting the mayor and his new ‘wife’, Robbie Bobby ‘The Implanter’ Magee, assistant manager of the town’s one remaining Bob’s Big Boy.

Needless to say, the evening ends in tears.  Not only are you thrown out of the house without any clothes – because after all you had not bought them yourself (at least not with your own money) – but you’ve been cut out of the will.  And not only that, but your erstwhile adopted father/employer is going to make sure you never get another job in any town in your particular hemisphere or any other hemisphere as long as you live.  Your only hope is to sell all your organs to the local organ bank.  Except, of course, since your ex-adopted father/employer took out a mortgage on them, even they are no longer yours to sell.

Right about now, I hear you ask, “But what has all this to do with smart houses?”   To this I say, “It shows what happens when you are not paying attention.”  Period.  Now, I am not saying that should you stop paying attention when you move into your smart house you’ll end up on the street without a part of shorts to call your own or without any of your organs.  But you might lose contact with your storyline – or in the case of your house, with the all-important instruction manual.  And it goes without saying that in the case of a smart house the instruction manual is run by the computer.  And that means that if you have lost the plot so far, you wouldn’t last a minute in a smart house.

I once saw one of these smart homes.  And it was spectacular.  For the architect was not only a brilliant engineer, but he also possessed  an unparalleled sense of beauty.  First of all, before even thinking about a design for his house, he selected a site.  And when he had found the site and had consulted the local planning authorities, etc., etc.’ he got down to work.

The result was breathtaking.  It was a two-storey glass cube, and it was totally computerised.  Every surface was clear glass: hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of square metres of clear glass. Even the floors were clear glass.  And lest you think that this would be unworkable – after all, in a house privacy is a consideration – at the touch of keypads, each wall or floor tile or door would frost over, and they could also change colours.  And so, you see, within a nonce, the house could take on the appearance of the natatorium at the Bejing Olympics or of a painting by Mondrian.

The family had two sons – both in their teens.  I asked him about teens and clutter.  He said, simply, “They know the score, and they think they can handle it.”  In other words, each kid could take refuge in his own room, frost the walls, and be in his own space.  I then asked him about wardrobes and desks and work-stations, and he showed me.  It was an old magician’s trick.  He did it with mirrors.

The same with the kitchen.  Mirrors camouflaged everything. Plus the fact that if the kitchen was in use and they didn’t want it to be seen from the open-plan ground-floor space, they simply touched a keypad and a frosted-glass wall rose up on hydraulics as a partition.

It occurred to me to ask him a few questions:  “But what about  clutter?” I asked for the second time.  “The house is so well designed and so efficient, we don’t need clutter.” He said, looking at me through narrowed eyes.

I asked him what would happen during a power-failure.  After all, the house was entirely driven by electricity. He said the computers could take care of that;  in fact,  they generated enough power of their own to sell the surplus to the grid. But then he smiled and shrugged his shoulders and said, “There’s always the fireplace.” And with that he touched another control and a slender black granite rectangle rose up from the floor.  With the touch of another keypad it ignited, and with the touch of a third, a rotisserie and a grill rose from the floor and inserted themselves into their respective niches.

“Anymore questions?” he asked.

“How about a toaster?” I wanted to know.

“Never use them,” came the reply.

“And a hairdryer?” I smirked.

“Ditto,” he said.

“How about if you did have them and switched them both on at the same time?” I asked in an innocent voice.

He smiled.  “Then we’re up shit’s creek,” he said.  “Without a paddle.”

May 28, 2010

MooCow

My Best Ever Career Choice

When I sat down at the computer a few minutes ago I was in a really rancid state of mind.  And so while I was thinking about all the things at which I could hurl some serious and self-pitying vitriol, I suddenly thought to myself, “No, just wait a fucking moment!” After all, what do I really have to complain about today that I didn’t already have to complain about yesterday?  Nothing much, really, for when it comes down to it I lead the life of a nudnick.  In fact, every day in every way, I seem to have fewer and fewer things about which to grind my teeth.  For example, yesterday the new tenants in the flat underneath me spent yet another afternoon sawing their way through concrete and knocking down walls with a sledge hammer, and today – except for the fact that they are playing the Qur’An loud enough to peel what is left of the paint off my walls and blow out my eardrums, they are remarkable quiet.  Except, of course, I shouldn’t have said anything, because no sooner had I written that last sentence than they started to drill holes in the walls.  I really do not know – nor do I want to know – what they are doing down there.  If all the grinding and the pounding and the drilling are anything to go by, they soon will not have any apartment at all.  Just one big open space with no exterior walls.  And that will mean, of course, that everyone in the building opposite will be able to see in. That is one thing if you live in Greece, but quite another in Egypt. Because in Egypt and if you are the observant Muslim you are expected to be – that is, if you want to get a decent apartment and you don’t want to have ‘garbage collecting’ as your only career choice – none of the occupants of this wide open space will be able to take any of their clothes off.  And I am not just talking about the women.  There’s also a law for the men. Because, you see, there is nothing so forbidden for a man to see than the nakedness of another man. Yes, he can see another man’s torso, and he can see another man’s legs below the knee.  But forget the good parts. And since men are also forbidden to look upon the nakedness of a woman (unless they are ‘bad’ girls), that doesn’t leave them very much room for manoeuvring, does it?  I mean, the sense of shame permeating every pore of this place makes The Vatican seem like a playground for little boys.

Alexandria may have many attractions, but one thing it does not have – or if it does, it doesn’t put ads in the paper – is a chain of nudist clubs, with branches in Mahatat Raml and Ibrahimea and Carrefour and San Stefano and Mamoora and The Sporting Club.  It’s no wonder everyone is so bloody crabby all the time!  They’re so repressed they might as well be Presbyterians. And just think, all those hundreds of miles of sandy beaches and not a single one for us nudists!  It had occurred to me it might be an idea to open up a tiny nudists’ resort between Alexandria and Matruh.  Perhaps somewhere near El Alamein or even ‘The Amway Private Resort’ (yes – really; the mind boggles). If one could get away with it, this might be an idea that would actually make me some money.  But then I thought, if they want a nudists resort, let them get their own act together and quit equating the naked body with the forbidden fruit.  And while they are at it, they might even stop screaming at each other for five minutes and do something besides play dominoes.    

But back to complaining.  I thought for a while of other things I could moan and whinge about, but the trouble is I have been complaining about so many things in the past month or so, that I am in danger of running out of annoying things to complain about. This means that I shall soon have to revisit every one of those old, used-up annoying things about which I have already been complaining, give them fresh paint-jobs, and recycle them.  It really is a shame that my repertoire is so limited. 

And as for recycling, once I start revisiting and rehashing my own redundancies (deliberately and not just ‘accidentally’ as is my usual practice), wouldn’t it be tempting – instead of actually re-decorating whinges – to simply ‘cut and paste’ the most whiny bits and pieces from last month’s ravings without even bothering to re-write them?  However (and alas), since I never keep track of anything I do and cannot for the life of me remember anything I have written after I have written it, I would end up so totally confused that I might end jumping out of the window.  And actually, while jumping out of the window might solve a few problems – such as what am I going to do in the future – I don’t really think my feet would like the landing, for knowing me I would leap off feet-first.  Granted, all the lanes round my building are sand, but – let’s be honest – the ground underneath the sand is very hard. And as for the sand itself, it’s not really all that fluffy.  I mean, it starts each day fluffy enough, and once you have cleared away all the garbage that has been dumped on it overnight, it even looks quite presentable.  That is, if you don’t mind landing in the largest cat-box on the planet.  But none the less, my feet still might object. And so might my legs.  And my hips.  And my pelvis.  Just think for a minute about my pelvis!  I mean, what has it ever done to me that I should abuse it in such a fashion?  If I were a pelvis, would I be all that pleased to have two very white and very spindly legs rammed up inside me?  Even if the legs in question were only moderately hairy and not really ginger at all – at least not so you’d notice once I’ve shaved them and have turned off the lights?  Would my pelvis thank me?  Isn’t it enough that I’ve already smashed it to smithereens several times?  You remember: when both my horse and I were so busy sniggering about the flatulence of the horse in front of us that we forget the fence and ploughed straight into that horse’s flatulent behind? 

And what about my poor groin?  What would happen to it if I jumped eight storeys down on to the hard-packed sand?  I could hardly say, “I’m sorry I’ve torn you yet again, but you should have landed on the other side of the alleyway where there’s that soft pile of used masonry.” No, definitely not feet-first.  And not head-first either.  I’ve just had my hair re-spiked by the guy in the Four Seasons Hotel – the one with the assistant who resembles a younger Christiano Ronaldo – and its ‘lukin well coooel’.  God only knows what it would look like after landing in a pile of cat-shit ten feet deep.  Or on one of those donkey carts selling tomatoes and onions.  And then there’s the fact that I always like to see where I’m going.  And if I saw where I was going when I was falling and I didn’t like where I was going to land, would I be able to turn around and fall back up again?  No?  How about if I got religion and started to pray reeeeaaaallllly hard?   But what if I did pray reeeeaaaallllly hard?  And what if after I prayed reeeeaaaalllly hard, I discovered that God had been called away on business, leaving his phone to be answered by his voicemail?  What would I do them?  Or even worse, what if God has outsourced his telecommunications system to one of those call-centres in Mumbai?  You know the ones:  where the system keeps giving you ever-more elaborate instructions and ever-more complicated numbers to dial? And then it puts you on hold for fifteen minutes while you listen to the Best of Barry Manilow – interrupted every ten seconds by a soothing voice assuring you that you are their most valued customer and they are only keeping you waiting so they can serve you better?  And FINALLY, when you are on the brink of deciding that suicide might be less painful that waiting on hold, on comes this operator who pretends he or she is speaking from Bognor Regis – only he or she doesn’t really know where Bognor Regis is.  In fact, when pressed, the operator states that it’s on the outskirts of Krakow.  Then, when you ask to be put through to God Himself – after first trying to explain which God you are actually talking about – the operator explains that your particular God is having lunch with Katie Price, as a precursor to appearing as her new love interest on her next reality show.  However (according to the operator), even though He Himself won’t be available to take your call personally, He would like to send you a signed photograph of His Son, as well as two sets of Glory Hallelujah Miraculous Beer Steins – all for the convenient low-low price of £2.99, plus seventy-six percent tax and £2,000 shipping and handling from their warehouse in The One True Heaven.  Just send your certified cheque or money-order to:  Beer Steins – Dept. X, God In Heaven, c/o The One True Heaven, Mumbai 3.   Now remember to send your cheque or money-order to this address: The One True Heaven, Mumbai 3.  We repeat, your one-time payment should be sent to ‘The One True Heaven’ – NOT to ‘The Only True Heaven’ and NOT to ‘Heaven On a Bagel With Lox’ and NEVER NEVER  to ‘Siddhartha Sittin’ Under The Tree Nirvana Heaven’ or to ‘Billy Bubba’s Heavenly Hookers and Chitterlings, Route 3, Selma, Alabama, or even to ‘That Final One True Heaven That Actually Got There First Before The Others’ (the heaven that never sends pictures of their head honcho on their brochures).  Remember:  your cheques and money orders should be sent to ‘The One True Heaven’!  This is a one-time limited offer.  Limit: 12 sets of beer steins per customer.  Offer expires 27 May, 2010. The merchandise featured in the brochure may not be the same as the merchandise the customer receives.  All transactions are final. No refunds given. No complaints accepted.

It goes without saying that the operator has by this time remembered that it is his or her lunch-break. And because he or she doesn’t want to miss out on the vindaloo special in the cafeteria, he or she has handed his or her headphones to the custodian.  And the custodian – who wants to see how it feels to work in Bognor Regis and to abuse call-centre customers) eagerly fills out the forms and completes the transaction.  Unfortunately for you – the customer – the custodian does not speak a word of English (even though he was born in Bradford) and he spells your address in such a way that your Beer Steins, as well as your new pre-approved credit card from The First Bank of God, have been sent to someone named Beelzebub Scratch.  The same Beelzebub Scratch who has just taken over the ownership of Liverpool Football Club after making an offer to its American owners that they could not refuse.

And if that is not frustrating enough, you look at your watch and see that it is already the 28th of May and the offer expired yesterday!

This is the end!  This is the point when you say to yourself, “Oh fucking shit on a shingle!” because by this time you have given up all hope of receiving your beer steins before your head has crashed into the ground – and you were really looking forward to them for your next pool party.  Therefore, you ‘disconnect’ the ‘connection’ and wonder if it would have been more efficient to have summoned Ol’ Scratch in the first place? 

And what does this mean?  Among other things, it means you are better off not jumping off the balcony head-first.

This only leaves two available options, jumping-wise (well, three, if you count the ‘cannonball on to the table where the three men have been playing dominoes for the last hour and a half’).  But if you discount this third one, these options are: a belly-flop and a swan dive.  Right up front I am going to say “NO” to the belly-flop.  The one and only time I belly-flopped off the high platform, it was far-more painful than plunging from a chaser into the centre of a fence.  And as for the swan-dive, I am going to say “NO” as well.  It would mean having to wear one of those itty-bitty pairs of Speedos – most probably in a shade of turquoise blue – and should I have an accident on impact, I can only say that yellow and brown are not really all that attractive when splatter-painted on to a turquoise background.

So, where are we now?

YES: my future.  That is, my future now that have talked myself out of jumping off my balcony. 

And I think I have the answer.  I shall take up employment as a cow.  And please don’t sneer at that.  Don’t make fun of me. And don’t you dare criticise my career choice until you have actually tried it yourself.

Personally, I cannot see anything wrong with being a cow.  Now, let’s get this straight: while I would rather not be a dairy cow in one of those American Industrial Dairy operations, which are usually located in a place where the sun is too hot and where there are no good bookstores within walking distance, it is better than being a cow in Ethiopia or Haiti, where I might starve to death.  But whatever, I refuse to be a bull!  And I will not compromise on this – unless, of course, I can be a Brahma Bull in India.  For if I am a Brahma Bull in India I can do anything I want and go anywhere I want, and during certain festivals I will even be permitted to wear makeup. However, even in India – as a Brahma Bull – there is danger.  What if I forget my street map, and instead of strolling to the Ganges for a good swim, I take the wrong turning and enter the other people’s Suq.  Believe me, having my throat slit is not how I wish to end up.  Nor do I wish to end up on a kebab.

The main reason why I do not wish to be a bull in the west is that only one in five million or so gets to have any fun.  It’s like being born a ram if you are a sheep.  I mean, there you are, pushed out into the cold grass all cold and wet from a warm uterus and your mother thoughtfully licks you all clean and shiny and shows where you get a bite to eat.  And then you notice you have those two little things between your hind legs.  And instantly – because you are a bovine, you know about such things – your life flashes before your eyes!  The next thing you know, you’ll be calf-napped from your mother by a man with rough hands, and your little thingies will be chopped off.  And after this you will be placed in a nice little field with a lot of other little guys who have also had their little thingies chopped off, and you will settle down to a few weeks of eating fattening foods.

Of course, if you are in one of those American Factory Operations, you will not only be fed, but you will find out what a Gascon goose feels like when it is having its liver fattened up for Foie Gras.  But since I have already marked the ‘No’ box beside the ‘American Cattle Factory Option’ on my employment application, I won’t even worry about that.  Unless, of course, the computer decides I’m going to be sent there anyway.  As the song says, “Don’t worry, Be happy!”

What I really would like is to be a Highland cow, but – course – I know there are not that many opportunities available. I also like to be an Aberdeen Angus – but with my spindly white legs with the not-quite ginger hair – I doubt whether I should qualify for that.  Mind you, with my hair I could pass muster as a Jersey or even a Limousin.  And while both of those options are acceptable, should I be accepted as a Limousin I would have to learn French.  And since I have already forgotten French at least once every decade, I can foresee certain problems.

What it boils down to is that a nice little dairy herd of twenty-five or thirty cows living in a nice rural community, would suit me just fine.  Yes, I would have to pump out a new baby each and every year, but I am told that after the first two or three, they simply fall out.  And it’s not as if I would even have to take care of them, for the nice farmer with the warm hands (not like the other farmer with the cold and rough hands that snips off your bits if you are a bull) will carry you off into a warm barn with plenty of heat lamps and good food to eat and plenty of playmates with which to romp.

And just think about this:  If I should end up in such a herd, I shall make sure my milk is very sweet and very rich.  And I shall also make sure that the coop – to which all the milk in the district is taken to be processed and bottled – sends all my personal milk to that sweet little ice cream shop (run by that lady with the implants in her udders) where they make twenty-five flavours (and never liquorice). I shall also insist that, should there be any cream left over it must be sent to that the pub on the riverbank where they make that really amazing Single-Malt Coffee.

Moo!

May 27, 2010

FaerieLights

Where now are the sweet, savage Beasties that lived within the Bogs?

I love the savage beasties that live among us and who we rarely see.  I love the vagrant spirits that drift round in the dark, and whisper thoughts and dreams and admonitions when the clocks strike two in the morning.  I love the wee people that dwell underneath the ancient floors and bang their drums and dance ‘til dawn, and play their pipes and make us mourn for those we have loved and lost.   I love the icy fingers that wake when it is cold and damp, and grab our toes and fingertips and make our skin turn raw and red.  I love the way some spirits waft from room to room like ancient beings who cannot remember where they left their glasses and are forced to return again and again and forever and ever, amen.

When I first lived on the island – a land where the ghosts had always run free – I was told (with some regret I might add) that nothing had been the same since the coming of electricity.  And these words were spoken by those who were old enough to remember, yet still young enough to tell the tale as if it had happened only the day before.  It seems that when they were young and even slightly older than young, and the houses and barns were still lit by lamps and the light of a candle, the bogs surrounding each and every hill and dale were alive with the faerie lights that used to glow and glimmer and sparkle in the gloom-laden mists.  And those were still the days when young and old alike went on weekly pilgrimages to the holy well that was in walking distance of their dwelling. Sundays were an official day, it goes without saying, but they never forgot birthdays or saint’s days or the anniversaries of their departed loved ones.  Nor did these people of the shadowy past neglect the graveyards, in particular those where the unbaptised and the stillborn were quietly laid to rest at midnight; and those among their surviving kin who still lived and who lingered on bereft, would secretly pray that their lost little ones would one day find their way into the light – and perhaps would grant them forgiveness.

And then came electricity, and with the coming of electricity the faerie lights were seen no more.  Or at least that is what everyone said.  What they did not say, however, and the reasons for this are plenty, was that – with the coming of electricity and progress – many of the bogs had been drained; the spirits who had loved and nourished – and some say, created, the land – were driven deeper, ever deeper underground.  And then, of course, the people dwelling beside the bogs – the farmers and the fishermen who had lived on that land since before the beginning of time – entered a new era.  They acquired money; they sent their children to school; they travelled abroad – but not only for the sake of survival, but because their eyes were now focussing outwards towards different horizons and new possibilities.  And even when the new and educated generation did not leave, but settled on their family’s ancient lands to run the farms and bring them into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, they tore down the time-worn traditional houses in which they had always lived.  So instead of warming themselves before their old nan’s turf-burning hearth and drinking tea with the old Border Collie sleeping under their feet, they built new houses –  more comfortable houses, more cheerful houses, more efficient houses, new houses with satellite dishes, five hundred channels, and with the Internet thrown in for free.  Modern houses wired for every eventuality – houses in which every member of their modern, twenty-first century families could happily forget the past.  And because they had taken to shining lights into the midnight skies outside these new houses of theirs, and because everyone else was doing the same thing, pretty soon there was no darkness left at all (and still less ‘stillness’ to be found) in which the ancient faeries – who had cared for the land for such a long time – could come out and dance and do all of the things faeries like to do when the lights go out and all of the people are safely tucked into their beds.

And as a consequence, on those cold dark nights, of which the island has so many, there is little phosphorescence left to gladden the heart, much less enough to frighten those loutish, whisky-drenched fools who are out and about when they have no right to be. And this makes the bog faeries very sad indeed.  For it has always been one of their tasks to hustle such craytures back to their hearths and homes and lay them safely in their beds – that they might sober up before the coming morn and live to drink again.

I pay no heed to ‘them wot scoffs’ at those faerie beings who used to rule supreme.  Just as I listen to the wind and check the sky for shooting stars and twinkling lights where no earthly twinkling light can possibly be.  And who gives a shite if someone more learned than I claims that what I see is but a satellite or a weather balloon or simply a visitor from the planet Zug?

To this latter group, those unhappy feckers who ne’er look down at what lives beneath their feet, but prefer to wait for some ‘never-will-come’ deliverance from beings from beyond the stars, I say this:  perhaps you are right, for what does one know?   And perhaps the moon is made of cheddar cheese of a far more authentic type than any made by Kraft, and perhaps the slurry pit is filled with chocolate dip?  I do not know. And no more do you.  The only things my eyes have seen during my nocturnal meanderings through the bogs – after all the electric lights have at last been extinguished and everyone else is fast asleep – are the myriad flickers coming from millions of glimmers from within the earth itself.  And the only whispers floating through my ears come from ancient voices that tell me true, that the earth is but a very miniscule place, smaller even than the smallest grain of sand in the universe.  And that our earth it is full, very full indeed, and over-brimming with souls large and small, living and dead.  There is no room for visitors from beyond the stars, much less for new immigrants, and neither is there a welcoming mat on which they can wipe their feet.  Besides, these voices say: what with the earth being so miniscule, no other beings can possibly find us.  For the earth is so very, very, very small – so very wee and peculiar to look at – that no matter how hard the aliens might search, all they will see is a large parking lot with a McDonalds at one end and a Pizza Hut at the other.  And with a discount mall in between.

So you see, my friends, there are bog lights and faerie lights, and they are there for all to see.  Simply turn off your televisions and shut your computers down and switch off your phones – if even for a minute. And then extinguish your lights and quietly walk round to the back of your house, to that part where nobody ever goes.  And look through the stillness and into the bog.  And there will be the lights, and they will be shining and sparkling, just the same as always – and they will be as plain and clear and bright as ever they were.  Only please remember to greet them with a heart-felt “Hello!” and to tell the spirits that you mean them no harm. And that way, when next the foul wintry winds sweep in and carry off the roofs, your house will be spared and kept safe and sound.  And not a single slate will be blown from your roof, nor will your chimney sway nor will your heart know fear.   For the faeries are in charge of this land of theirs, and they will gladly protect those who have remembered them, and who have greeted them with a heart-felt “Hello!” And – just occasionally – have left them a wee dram of whisky or a bottle of the thickest stout.

Although many islanders no longer speak of the faeries, or of the wells, or of those still-born infants whose bones still lie under the hill, they are never far from their minds when it comes to those traditions they cannot otherwise explain.  One of these concerns the eating of the tiny blackberries that grow wild upon the dry-stone walls. As berries go, these are the sweetest berries I have tasted for many a year, but nobody ever eats them. Of course, when I first moved there and the berries had ripened, I picked several small baskets for jam.  But then I was told – by one much younger than I – that the fruit on those brambles belonged to the faeries and would bring me ill-health and bad luck if I ate what had always been theirs.  Besides (my neighbour did add with a smile) the faeries they came and they spat (and often did shit) on the berries during the night. Just to turn them sour.  And so, of course, I did not demure.  And because I did not want to eat what was clearly not mine, I offered my jam and a loaf of brown bread to the little people in the bog.

Yet another wonderful phenomenon had to do with the way the glowering charcoal clouds that constantly hung low above our heads would only occasionally part. But when they did, through the gap where the clouds had been rent in twain, would stream a shaft of brilliant sunlight.  When, one day, when I happened to comment on this, and say how very lovely it was, I was told in tones most dark and obscure, to pray a novena starting that very day and to light a candle in the church.  For such breaks in the clouds were the divil’s own work, and as for those gaps, they let in all the evil humours from hell. And those very same gaps were the gaps through which your sinful soul would be spirited come the tolling of the funeral bell.  In other words, they let in the ‘bad’ air.

And do you want to know something?  I shall never scoff.  And I do not believe and I do not disbelieve.  After all, what does anyone know that I do not already know myself?  What difference does it make if I talk to the faeries after dark and give them all of my jam and brown bread?  You see, I know there is something there. What it may be is unknown to us all, and you may shrug it off with a grimace – and you may call it anything you like.  But, the fact that it is there and was there from the start, is quite good enough for me.

The house that I lived in was not all that old, but it still had plenty of creaks.  And since the land on which it was built lay with the bog on two sides and the sea on the others, I would lay awake at night and wonder what was going on that I was too deaf to hear and too blind to see.

And I thought of the old houses I had lived in before, with their squeaks and their rattles and their groans in the floor, and I thought what a wonderful world it would be, if only I could sharpen my ears and focus my eyes and fill my heart with delight.  And then because it was what I wanted to do, I would ask my doggie if she’d like to go out for a stroll, to wander down the boreen and to fill her lungs with the night.  And, of course, she would immediately perk up her ears and agree.  And I could see in her mind – my sweet little dog – that she hoped our walk might well coincide with a hunt for that old foe of hers, ol’ Misther Hedgehog.  And it might also include – if for only a glimpse – that illusive owld biddy, Missus Badger, who lived somewhere down below right next to the spring, and who never invited us in for tea.  So all it took was for my mouth to form the word doggie loved so dearly to hear. “Walk?” And she’d be off in a flash and would be standing next to the door, on a place right next to her leash. And if it was wet, as was sure it would be, it would be into our waxed Barbours for both her and for me. 

And then we would set off – and it would be perhaps all of two in the morning or so – and we’d walk side by side, in the damp still of the night.  And not a sound would we make, and no shadow would we miss, and we’d keep our ears pealed for a crackle or a sigh or for those tiny bells that we both hoped we would hear.

And when we got to the cliffs, to the rocks jutting out from the moor, we’d sit down or sometimes we’d lie back in sheer bliss, and I would think to myself as I looked up at the night and felt the rain on my face, where else could I go and where could I find a more cracking craic than this?

May 26, 2010

ElChapulin

The Mad and Mean Mexican Green Papagayo Machine

His name was El Chapulin Papagayo; at least that’s what he told me it was.  But what was I to know?  After all, I didn’t know who he was; as far as I was aware, I hadn’t even noticed him. And although I never told him so, I’d never given him a thought – much less a second thought.  But then again, it’s hard to think of someone when one hasn’t even heard of him.   I’m not even sure he had ever been where I was – much less in my field of vision – when I was somewhere and in the mood to notice things.  After all, my eyes can only notice those things that happen to be within a noticeable distance.  But if this Chapulin character did happen to be in the same place as my eyes, one possible reason why I hadn’t noticed him was that he had been lying low, sussing me out, and deciding if I might make a suitable pet for him to train.  I can hear him now:  would this human creature be the type who would buy him the sort of cage he wanted – a cage with plenty of roosting possibilities on top, and with plenty of room for his toys inside?  Would he be reliable?   Could he depended upon to be at his beck and call, both in the day and in the night?  And would he buy him an amazing assortment of fruits and nuts (and even a grub or two) and not just the boring old stand-by, sunflower seeds?  Would he buy him a different toy every other day, so as to save him from ennui?  And could he prove – with no room for a doubt – that he wasn’t a cat fancier? 

On this particular point Chapulin would not compromise: NO CATS!  For he was convinced that even the tiniest kitten was sure to eat him.  And being eaten by a cat was not on Señor Papagayo’s thirty year plan.

It goes without saying that this cage envisaged by Chapulin Papagayo should be in close proximity to the place on which my bottom was most likely to perch – in other words, at the end of a sofa where I was accustomed to sit when I was sitting awaiting his pleasure – and such pleasure as he had would always be at his discretion, depending on his frame of mind.  

The particular cage he had in mind for me to buy for him would be large and high – but not too large and not too high.  After all, a parrot in the wild is prey, and even in a domestic environment, security is uppermost in its mind.  It knows to the millimetre exactly how large a cage should be:  too large and it feels unsafe; too small and the parrot feels like a poor relative, or like you have mistaken it for a canary.  

In addition to standing next to my sofa, the ideal location for a cage should be – according to Chapulin – nestled  into a cosy corner and next to a curtain on which he might take his exercise – climbing up and down and up and down and then all the way up to the ceiling. And, it goes without saying, at this particular place under the ceiling, there should be a nice, safe roost on which he could perch and preen and – if possible – shite upon my head.  El Chapulin Papagayo always enjoyed that part of it.  I could tell; for he spent a great deal of time perfecting his technique, hoping to make his aim perfect.  It also goes without saying that the curtain he wanted placed at his disposal should be the kind with tiny holes that required a parrot’s attention.  Such ‘attention’, of course, involved a great deal of rending and shredding.  For on his list of favourite activities, shredding curtains was very nearly Number One.

As I mentioned, I am not altogether certain ol’ Chapulin had been in the shop during the weeks preceding our first close encounter.  And I was by way of being a regular customer.  However, knowing him and his love of intrigue, if he was not there at the beginning, then he was somewhere else plotting and planning to be in the shop when the right moment came.  For even if he wasn’t yet there physically, in his mind’s eye a part of him was already lurking in the shadows: sitting lost and lonely and despised in a dark mouldy cage shoved up under the ceiling and between an iguana and a baby pecorino.  From this miserable and hidden-away spot, his mind’s eye would be spying on me and plotting and scheming and planning to overthrow that particular government which lived inside my head.  For parrots – as anyone who has ever been owned by a parrot knows – are firm exponents of regime change.  And like all regime changes, this particular one had been mapped-out long before the parrot has ever met its quarry face-to-face.  You see, it has “had a dream…”    

In any case, wherever he was, Chapulin was somewhere watching me, checking me out from his parrot-like sleep (the one where they keep one eye pealed and only pretend to be sleeping in case you start doing something interesting that requires their input).  But how is a human to know what the parrot is up to?  For isn’t his sweet little head tucked into the feathers at the scruff of his neck and isn’t he all fruffled up just like he is at night?  Don’t you believe it! For the more innocent he looks the more effective he is as a ‘stealth weapon’.  Totally invisible to a human’s naked eye.  For, in this camouflaged state, even a single parrot in a room can seemingly transform itself into but a single parrot in the middle of a rainforest (complete with sound effects and jaguars) – one amongst hundreds of green parrots, all of which have more or less identical markings. And before you know it, right in front of your blurry eyes, the hundreds will multiply a hundred-fold more, until – right up there roosting with the howler monkeys and the flying squirrels – there are literally thousands of more or less identical green parrots with the same red spectacles and the same white bangs. And with the same What? Me? expression.  But even there – in your hallucination – you can sense that, although they are all superficially alike to the non-parrotized layman, each parrot knows how to make itself felt when it comes to the human of its choice.  What it does is this: it clamps its mind on to the more feeble mind of its prospective human servant, zeroing in on its subconscious until its chosen human is overcome by same feeling of impending dread and unspeakable doom that he otherwise gets only when a pickpocket in a darkened alleyway is closing in on the bulge in his trouser pocket – on the one day of the year when that pocket is actually containing a wad of bank notes. It is the feeling of inevitability. You see, the parrot has the same magnetism as a master criminal, as well as the same allure and the same tendencies. Both have identically devious and suspicious auras of sweetness and innocence, and both are prone to wear them as permanent parts of their arsenal.  And yes, any parrot can pick any lock invented by man.

And if you do not believe me about the innocent expression, ask any parrot owner to describe their bird at the moment it is preparing to defecate.  You know you are already in trouble when the bird suddenly looks at you with a soft and loving expression.  It will smile, and sometimes even cock its head.  Its eyes will dilate in ecstasy, it will fruffle up its feathers.  And then you will regret putting on that new black Armani suit you were saving up for your internment.  

Now, when I went into this particular pet shop near the Mercado Central, I had originally gone in as part of a local effort to round up captured kestrels and burrowing owls in order to rehabilitate then and – if possible – to return them to the desert.  At least, that’s what I thought I was doing there.  But the moment I started talking to the owner (who had a clutch of burrowing owl chicks and a brace of kestrels in his back room, ready and waiting for me), I became aware of a certain feeling of enchantment.  And I thought, “How very strange!” And then my ears gradually tuned in to a particularly lurid whistling – quite unlike anything I had ever heard before. And this whistling seemed to be coming from one of the cages where the parrots were kept.  In my enchantment – for that is what it was – I instinctively knew that this whistling sound was not one of your ordinary, common or garden whistling sounds.  In fact, it was a singularly irritating, strident and grating ‘Enchanted Whistling Sound’.  And when I pretended to ignore it, the owner of the whistling sound started to rattle its food cup and to sing like a demented soprano – with a wobble that would give an opera-lover nightmares for the next twenty years.  And when even this didn’t seem to penetrate my cabeza, it started to yell like a navvy.

The owner of the pet shop laughed.  “Looks like you’ve got yourself a parrot,” he smirked.

And that is how I met the bane of my life, a certain smallish green monster with red spectacles, a white fringe with blue feathers on his cheeks, and the most disreputable set of red tail feathers ever grown by a bird.  And as I carried him out the door this bird told  me – in no uncertain terms – that its name was Chapulin.  El Chapulin Papagayo.  And that, henceforth, my name was to be ‘Tu’!

Now, anyone who is under the misguided impression that this green Chapulin autocrat even so much as deigned to speak to me in Spanish or in English, has never met an Amazon of his variety (every single reference work I studied on the subject liked to stress that this particular species is ill-tempered, stubborn, arrogant, and that it is not interested in learning a language other than their own – come hell or high water.  They are not cooperative. In short, they make lousy pets).  And if this wasn’t enough, I knew that Chapulin – unlike parrots one buys in the US and most of Western Europe and which are born in captivity – had not been hand-reared, but rather stolen as a nestling from his nest.  In other words, I had ‘adopted an orphan’ (which places me in the same category as Madonna when she goes to Africa to buy a new baby).  And not having been hand-reared, he did not like to be handled, unless it was he who was doing the handling.

Yes, Chapulin did have an enormous vocabulary and could mimic every city sound he had ever heard – and even some of those he hadn’t – but it was all in parrot-speak.  The way he saw it was this:  since his vocabulary was so large and he was so eloquent, why on earth should he sacrifice it in order to learn a few childish phrases such as those used by the majority of human pets, who are – as every parrot knows – extremely thick.   “NO!” screams the much superior Amazon!  Let the lowly humans – who are after all several steps lower on the evolutionary chain than the average papaya – be the ones who are taught a few words of parrot-speak?  Nothing complicated, you know.  Just a few basic words and phrases, so when the parrot wants something it doesn’t have to waste a lot of time explaining to his human that when it asks for a Brazil nut, it is not asking to have his water changed, much less being treated to the dreaded “Polly Wants a Cracker” phrase that makes it want to bite off the human’s nose.  Needless to say, every single parrot is resigned to the fact that – in almost every case – teaching a human being is a fulltime job that requires an entire lifetime.  But so what?  The lifetime in question is the human’s lifetime – which, as every parrot knows, is significantly shorter than the more valuable parrot lifetime, which can last until the end of creation.  So, as long as the human is reasonably well-behave and obedient, what are a few wasted years more or less, for there are usually other fish to fry in the owner’s house.  Such as live-in lovers and new spouses and, last but not least, dogs – which are great for tormenting.  In other words, a parrot can always find more devilment to liven up its life.

A good friend of mine, who was on the cusp of thirty, had been the owner of an African Grey since her twenty-first birthday.  She had been its only owner and had helped to hand-rear it; in other words, she was the only flock it had ever known.  Now, there came a point when she was thinking about getting married.  And so – being a parrot owner – one of her major concerns had to do with the bird, and about how it would take to sharing its human with an outsider.  For, you see, parrots can be outrageously jealous creatures and have been known to break up marriages and inspire children to move away from home prematurely.

Although this friend of mine loved her parrot dearly, she loved her fiancé more, and was not about to sacrifice her future happiness for the sake of a bird.  In other words, she was being a self-centred cow.  But as she saw it, she knew the parrot liked her mother – and had, in fact, stayed at her mother’s house on several occasions.  And so it was agreed that should the African Grey object to the fiancé, then it would be the one to move.

And so the fiancé moved in.  And everything appeared to be fine.  The parrot took to following the fiancé around the house; it seemed to be studying him.  And when the fiancé was taking a shower before bed the very first night, he looked down between his legs and – behold – the parrot was down there looking up at him.  And smiling.

The next morning the parrot had made a decision.  He loved the fiancé and had developed a seething hatred towards the woman who had cared for him his entire life.  And he was implacable.

The upshot was that the engagement was left in tatters.  The parrot left with the fiancé, and my friend was left both parrot-less and fiancé-less.  Let that be a lesson to you.  For this is not an uncommon scenario.

The fact that my Chapulin was not particularly ‘user-friendly’, meant that I was not subjected to the usual preening routine so familiar to parrot owners – where the bird walks around the back of your neck and rearranges you hair for hours and hours and hours on end. And I never asked him to perch on me; he was easily spooked, and I didn’t particularly want to have one of my ears chomped off if and when something startled him.

One game he adored, however, and one he had invented himself, was ‘fetch’.  Only, unlike the regular game one plays with a dog (in which the human throws an object and the animal retrieves it), in Chapulin’s version, it was Chapulin who tossed the object… and yours truly who ran and fetched it back.  His favourite toy for this activity was a little rubber ball with a bell inside.  And he would throw this for hours and hours and make all sorts of funny noises (and his happy noises consisted of squeaks and burbles and chortles, and almost made you wish you were a parrot).  The only trouble was, he wouldn’t stop until he had decided to stop.  And if I tried to stop prematurely, he would have a fit.  And nothing on earth is quite like a parrot’s fit.

Now, as we all know, a parrot can live quite a long time, say thirty or forty years.  Parrots are extremely monogamous, which means their first love will truly last a lifetime.  In other words, if you buy one you will be stuck with one.  Forever!

The other thing to keep in mind is that a parrot is extremely intelligent.  And not only is it intelligent, but it knows that it is a great deal more intelligent than its owner.  And furthermore, unlike a dog or a cat or any other pet, a parrot is simply not intimidated by a human.  And this means you cannot win an argument with a parrot.

The other thing to consider is that a parrot is in many ways very much like a two or three year old child, only it doesn’t grow out of it…. rather, it grows into it deeper when it itself reaches the ‘terrible twos’.  And while I’m at it, let me remind you that a parrot can crack open a walnut without breaking into a sweat.  That means, of course, that if the parrot is not in a good mood (and they make their signals clear) it is not the best of times to reach and touch its topknot.  Unless, of course, you have an extra unwanted finger to spare.

The only time Chapulin got lovey-dovey with me was when I was in the shower (and I always took cold shows).  Parrots, like all birds, love water.  They absolutely adore bathing.  So very quickly, once Chapulin had settled in and decided I was a pretty good owner after all, he established a bath-time routine. And while he added to it whenever he felt like a change (for parrots, being intelligent, get bored very quickly), it always started off the same.

He would wait until I was in the shower and the water was running, at which point he would burble a few happy noises. And after he had talked for about thirty seconds, he would whistle. And after he had whistled, he would scream.  And then he would fall silent.  That was when I would count to five – because I knew he would be waddling across the floor to the bathroom.  On the count of six I would turn round and,  sure enough, there would be Chapulin peering coyly round the door and looking up at me. I would then call his name, he would whistle once, and then skip across the floor and into the shower.  And when he was standing between my legs and being drenched by the torrent, he would tilt back his head and look up at me (or at some familiar spirit), and then go into a little dance.  It was magic…. needless to say, when he was standing underneath me in the shower, it did cross my mind that at some point in time, just out of devilment (or because he had mistaken it for an exotic fruit – or perhaps a grub)  my sweet little Chapulin Papagayo he would chomp off one of my toes. .

May 25, 2010

SmackThePony

Wanking and the Minger’s ‘Sin’ List

I don’t know about ‘me’.  I’ve been around for an awfully long time; I’ve lived in virtually every part of the globe.  I have seen a lot, and have avoided seeing even more – especially when it came to things that I wouldn’t have wanted to see in the first place.  Just call me lucky.  And, yes, I have also done a lot of things – perhaps not very well and perhaps I never tried hard enough.  But I cannot complain, and if I could, what would I complain about?   What would I have to complain about?  I only have myself to blame.  For you see, I have managed to pack an incredible amount into a life in which I have done absolutely nothing.  I kid you not!

The first time I shot a gun; I simply aimed at the target and pulled the trigger.  Bulls-eye! But then, the second time, instead of merely aiming and shooting, I started to think about the mechanics of what I was doing.  Should I aim higher?  Should I aim lower?  How many yards away was the target?  And, of course, I seldom ever hit the target after that – at least not until I’d put in a great many hours of practice. But even then, I the bulls-eye always managed to be in another place from where I’d fired the bullet.

So, too, with my sex life.  Whereas I knew from a very early age that life was a banquet and that every single platter was literally dripping with the choicest morsels, I simply forgot why my first experience had been so simple.  Because I had simply done it.  But do you want to know what I did immediately after I had done it and had enjoyed it and had found that it was very simply indeed?  I forgot how easy it was and started to think about how difficult it was.  Consequently, I missed out on a whole lot of fun when I needn’t have missed out on it.  After all, I lived in the ‘West’.  I had not been indoctrinated by any punitive ideology to speak of.  Yes, I was brought up with a sense of responsibility, but that is how it should be.  Or at least how it ought to be.  As far as I remember there was never any talk of sin.  It was always, “think about the consequences.”   So what went wrong?  Instead of remembering what made me tick (like even the average intelligent mosquito would have done), the only incident I remembered – and which I remember to this very day – was the time my father snapped at me when I was fondling myself.  Now, I don’t think he called it ‘dirty’ as so many parents so, but whatever he did say became the all encompassing cloud which overshadowed my entire childhood.  And from that very moment, I started to cultivate my own ideology – one which was every bit as narrow and punitive as any to be found in any organised religion.  And do you something?  I have never forgiven my father.  And this, of course, means that I have never forgiven myself for granting him so much power in the first place.

When I first started to become sexually active, I instantly cultivated something we never had a home.  A sense of sin.  And why should I have cultivated this?  It wasn’t as if I ever went to church – except occasionally at evensong, for the music.  And it wasn’t as though I knew anybody who actually went to church, or who even went in for that sort of thing.  I don’t think I really even knew what ‘sin’ was.  Perhaps I thought I was missing out on something I didn’t have?  And so I wanted it.  So I immediately set about punishing myself; in other words, I decided to repress myself.  

Like all healthy young men on the cusp of manhood, I was a mass of jangling, postulating hormones. I didn’t need a reason to get erections. They simply happened, and if I didn’t take care of them, they took care of themselves. Riding a horse?  Yes, I think we might say that many a pair of breeches were smuggled in to the washing machine and laundered without the benefit of my mother’s help.  Mucking out stalls?  Yes.  You might say that many a pile of manure got improved by my tiny contributions.  And, for God’s sake, if ever I happened to be grooming one of our stallions and he became aroused, I went through agonies.  Which reminds me that when our stallions were put out to stud, they normally stood at out trainer’s breeding facilities.  Now, I was no stranger to the mating of horses or dogs or pigs or even camels or elephants, and so I took their acrobatics for granted.  Which means that, then as now, my voyeurism was focussed on single individuals (fortunately of the human-kind) –   and when it came to two or more participants, I was not interested in it as a spectator sport. Either I was or am a party to it, or forget it.  

But to get back to our stallions and their lives as rent boys and sperm-donors:  I remember when mares were brought to our stallions and the owners would choose to be present to ‘witness’ the act.  And every so often these owners, if they were new at the game and hadn’t really seen it before, would develop a certain ‘glow’.  Now, I should make it clear that they would have been watching from behind a window in a ‘viewing room’ on the next floor.  Very often, the ‘glow’ that some of these inexperienced new owners were feeling, would grow into a shining beacon. Now there was a large sofa in this room. And more than once, these owners very quickly forgot to observe what they had come to observe.  As our trainer once remarked to me (for I would usually be the one to tell him, and also to describe in grossly unnecessary and vivid detail what the owners had done), “we could’a bred her to the bull, and saved your lad for a more appreciative audience.” For ‘our lad’ wasn’t getting any younger, and couldn’t always get it up when we wanted him to.  And, as for the bull, the trainer had a small dairy herd, and kept a Limousin to keep the cows ‘interested’; he, unlike our stallion, was ready to go anytime, anyplace, and with anything.  And he even drooled.

Sadly for me, when one of our animals was either mounting or being mounted, those were about the only times nothing happened in my nether regions.  In fact, they were, perhaps, the only times – other than when I was doing my naturism thing around the house or at the beach – when I didn’t think about sex.

I remember one time we were cleaning out the septic tank, and our ‘hand’ (one was all we ever had – not counting my father) snuck up behind me and pushed me in.  All very funny.  Everyone laughed.  And then I stripped off my clothing and stormed off to the grooming stall, where there was a shower. On the way to the shower, I got so unaccountable horny – I mean rampantly horny – that I blew my wad before I had walked thirty feet. It was probably the most powerful ejaculation I had ever experienced, and it just kept going on and on and on.  And, because I was covered with shite from head to toe, it wasn’t as though I was touching anything. But never mind.  However I should mention that I had – not one – but two wet-dreams the following night.  So if you are having ‘trouble’, just think about your septic tank.

If only most of my sexual experiences with other people had been as good.       

There was a reason why it was not – and this is really pathetic – because from the moment I proudly grew my first really grownup-looking pubic hair, my newly cultivated sense of ‘sin’ already had a stranglehold on me.  But only when it came to certain things that I decided to classify as ‘sins’.  Namely masturbating on school-nights. And before riding in a point-to-point or race (but not before dressage, before which the more wanking I did, the better). And being caught by my parents.  Especially by my father, for by that time he was deeply worried about me, and by the fact that I didn’t seem to be cultivating any girlfriends.  Never mind that I was going to boarding school, because – to his knowledge – boarding school didn’t seem to prevent any of my friends from rogering each and every girl they encountered.  I simply didn’t seem to care. In any case, why did I want to fuck a girl in a ditch by the road?  Was that supposed to be appealing or something?  But of course, unbeknownst to my father, I had ‘Dickie’ to keep me busy.  And who had time for a girlfriend when I had ‘Dickie’ ready and willing and by my side (and besides, he never asked me to make promises).  And let me tell you this: come hell or high water, ‘Dickie’ never made in on to my  ‘sin’ list.

Now, I haven’t mentioned ‘Dickie’ before.  Dickie was not part of my crowd; he didn’t ride; he wasn’t interesting in racing.  In fact, he was only interested in going into the army, and after the army, in taking over his father’s farm.  I had known him for quite a long time, and we were always good mates. We were also the same age.  Then one day, without any particular preamble, or without even talking about it, we simply started masturbating each other whenever we happened to get together.  When we first started this routine, he had not quite entered puberty, and so when he reached his climax, it almost invariably resulted in urination.  But it didn’t bother either of us – because we both knew that given time, the ‘right stuff’ would – as they say – come out.  Now I want to be clear about this.  There was no love between us.  No crush.  At no time did we want to have sex together. We just liked wanking.  And since we both liked wanking a lot, we did a lot of it. And it wasn’t as though we were even turned on by each other’s penises.  To tell you the truth, I don’t think we ever took any interested in looking each other’s anatomical enhancements.  It was all about the wank.  Every time we saw each other, it was straight out to the barn.  And out they would come. And we would finish up (it was always fast and to the point), and then go our separate ways – ‘Dickie’ back to his father’s cows, and me back to the horses.  And I don’t think either of us gave each other a second thought when we were not together.  I seem to recall he was very good-looking and had everything in the right place, but I certainly never fanaticised about him.  Not like I did about Sheila (but never mind about her – I am saving her for another chapter).

I well remember when our wanking days were over, and it coincided with ‘Dickie’s blossoming into full-fledged puberty. I had been away at school for two terms, after which I had been absent from home for an additional eight months following the death of my brother (the one that had been – when he was alive – ‘the other one’).  His death was a tragedy that seemed to provide as good an excuse as any to scrounge cabins on a distant cousin’s tramp-steamer bound for Hong Kong (a voyage which spawned a second voyage – this one for the return journey – on a second and even more decrepit vessel than the first one).  On neither journey did I find so much as a single wanking-mate.  But, then again, neither of the tubs carried more than six or eight passengers (including the three of us), and all the other passengers seemed to be either antediluvian tea-planters or members of the diplomatic corps on leave.  It was a lonely time.  And I seem to remember filling the empty hours doing lessons (so ‘thoughtfully’ provided by the school, and which I mailed back to the headmaster from various ports of call), as well as playing endless games of cribbage with the chief steward, playing endless games of bridge and mah-jong with our fellow passengers, and in marching round the boat deck with a woman who was employed by one of the Intelligence services, and who had figured out exactly just how many circuits equalled five miles.

Anyway, we finally got back home, and before I had even gone out to the yard to say ‘hello’ to the horses I received a call from ‘Dickie’.  “Meet me at the usual spot in ten minutes!” And so I did.  The ‘Dickie’ whom I had known before was not the ‘Dickie’ who greeted me out back of the barn. Yes, he had the same face and the same goofy smile, and his accent was the same, but other than that, the boy had been supplanted by a man.  He was now close on six foot one (whereas I was  at the time five foot five and determined not to grow another inch); his face, though still lean and boyish – for after all, he was still only sixteen – was leaner around the jaw-line, and on his chin was a fine beginning of a beard.

“I got somat to show you,” he said, and with that he stepped out of his trousers and presented an erection that was nothing like that I had ever seen on him before.  “What d’ya think?”  And I had to admit he had grown into a fine-looking hunk of man.

“And wot about you?” he said with a leer.  “Still the little same-o-same-o?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “The little same-o-same-o’s the same as ever.”

And that was that.  ‘Dickie’ had grown up and could – as they say – get it up without any help from me.  He had a girlfriend from the next village; he never went into the army, but he did take over the farm.  And after a while – in the way of all things – he and his girlfriend got married, had a son and a daughter, and then a divorce.

And I’m glad it ended there, because it was just a phase, and phases are better outgrown.

No, ‘Dickie’ was never counted as a sin.  But somehow masturbating on school nights still remained a bugbear, and so did looking at porn.  And so did a long list of other things, some of which I have never outgrown.  And so did ‘yes’ when and if I was approached on the street or in a cafe or in a bar by a stranger.  And by a stranger, I mean a stranger of either sex.  Because, to tell the truth, both are the same under their respective skins, and make absolutely no difference to me. Besides, my willy is definitely an equal-opportunity player. But be that as it may, let a stranger come up to me, and he or she are bound to be met by my special ‘frozen’ stare.

I continue to feel annoyed with my poor father, even though he has been dead for over thirty years.  For I can still hear him telling me not to touch myself.  And I also can hear him asking me once when I was twenty-three or four, if I had ever had a girlfriend?  At the time, I was taking a shower and enjoying the pleasures of the warm water as it flowed down my skin, and he had walked in on me – apparently feeling I was going beyond the point of no-return.  He had always tried so hard to be a good father, but he tried so hard he always overstepped the mark.  And my problem was I was so bloody well brought up, it didn’t occur to me to tell him to “fuck off.”  I can’t remember what I said in return.  The word ‘yes’, however, was included, but otherwise it was very, and very distant.  And sometimes I wonder if that is one of the reasons I have never had children?  Would I have made the same mistakes as he?  It was one thing to go through it myself, but quite another to pass it along.  And you see, I have never entirely trusted myself.

In conclusion, what else was on my ‘sin’ list?  And for that matter, what did the ‘sin’ in ‘sin’ list actually mean?  I had made it up, after all; it wasn’t one of those things I had got out of a book, or which I had been threatened with from a pulpit.  If it had been forced upon me from either of those sources, I don’t think it would have been as bad.  However, when I had somehow ‘fixed’ on the word, I had given it a particularly evil connotation.  For you see, in the ‘Church of Me’, a ‘sin’ was something you did before all your luck ran out.  In other words, if I sinned on a school night, I would fail not only the next day’s tutorial but the entire term.  If I sinned the night before a race or a point-to-point, I was guaranteed to break half the bones in my body.  If I sinned before going out on a date, the date would inevitably have the clap or fancy someone else at the next table.  And then, of course, being the idiot that I am, I was compelled to enlarge upon my list of ‘sin’, until it encompassed almost everything, including ‘asking someone home for the night’,  ‘spending the night at someone else’s house’, ‘happiness’, ‘looking forward to anything (good or bad), ‘wanting to earn money’, and – last but not least – ‘actually doing anything that I was good at and doing it well’.  In other words, in my book of ‘sins’ I had all the bases covered.

That being said, the one activity that never made it on to the list was sex with another person.  And I rather imagine the reason I neglected to put it on the list was because I’d always thought of myself as a bit of a minger that nobody could possibly want.  However, I shall let you in on a secret:  in spite of my being a minger, and in spite of my being a hopeless tosser and absolute rubbish at anything and everything I had tried, the very fact that sex with another person never made it on to my  ‘sin’ list, meant that I have done it a great many times – more times, in fact, than most people I’ve known.  But, alas, not as many times as I could have, for although sex with others does not count as a sin, I have these pesky things called ‘hackles’, and the ‘hackles’ are accompanied by ‘alarm bells’.  And just when I find someone really raunchy and downright filthy – with whom sex might even be so good it would count as a ‘sin’ – my ‘hackles’ and my ‘alarm bells’ get all hoity-toity and schoolmarmish.  And they remind me that once I have had sex with another that is so good that it counts as a sin, I couldn’t ever have sex with another ‘another’ again. Or at least not without another seven years of bad luck.  Or something equally as bad.

May 24, 2010

The Knackers

An old house, an old Horse, and a very young Turnip

Quick, scampering footsteps echoing from high above their heads, after which – as though they were the rhythm section bringing up the rear – there followed the heavier, more ponderous footfalls of something larger and slightly ungainly. With clompy feet. Sometimes the larger of the beasts – the one with the clompy feet – was prone to lumber, and perhaps to limp just a little bit.  But at other times its gate was spritely, like a dancer, and well-collected as though the beast was preparing for a race.

“What is that, papa?” asked the little boy, cocking his head to one side and gazing up at his father.

“It is a ghost,” replied the father in a quiet, thoughtful whisper.  And he gave the little boy a fatherly hug.

“What sort of ghost?” demanded the child. “And may we go and see it?”

“No,” whispered the father, in a voice so low that not even the ancient walls of the house could overhear.

“But why not?” demanded the little boy.

“Shhh…” interjected the father.  “Let me put you to bed and I shall tell you a little story.”

“Please, papa,” whimpered the lad. “Not another story!  Not when there are ghosts about, and in the rooftop of our very own house.”

The father hugged his little son to his chest and lifted him into his arms. “Come along, my son. Time for bed.”

The little boy started to whine, but his father put his finger to his lips, “Shhhhhhh,” he murmured mysteriously, and then with his forefinger he pointed towards the ceiling.  “You don’t want them to hear you, do you?”

The father carried his son, wrapped in a blanket against the chill of the evening, and climbed the old staircase up to the next floor.  “Where are we going?” whispered the boy.

The father merely shook his head, and walked to the far end of the first floor gallery and to a small, green baize-covered door.  He inserted an old skeleton key into the lock.  And, surprisingly – for it looked like it hadn’t been opened for fifty years or more – the door swung open (silently, with but a whisper) on well-oiled hinges. The corridor beyond – a high narrow passageway such as those the housemaids might have used in bygone days to carry copper urns of boiling water up to the bedrooms – was surprisingly free of dust.

The little boy craned his neck to see where they were going, but his father held him close and shielded his eyes.

“Keep your eyes closed, my son.” whispered the father.

“But why?” answered the son in rebuke.

“Because this part of the house belongs to the ghosts,” replied the father solemnly. “And if you open your eyes, you might frighten them away.”

“Oh, very well.  If I must!”  said the son impatiently, for he was a curious bright-eyed lad and didn’t like to be kept in the dark.

On and on along the dingy passageway they walked and walked and walked, and the father was careful to make no noise.  He even avoided those places where the floorboards creaked.

The little boy looked at him in wonder.  “Why are you walking in such a funny way, papa? Are you playing hopscotch?”

To which his father whispered in his ear, “Parts of the floor are asleep, my son.  And if I step on their heads and wake them up, they will rouse the whole house.”

“You mean they will scream the house down!” trilled the little boy.  But then catching sight of his father’s pained expression, he thought of the punishments in store if he didn’t mind his manners.  “I don’t really fancy one of father’s spankings,” he said to himself.  And so to save face, he looked gravely up at his father and frowned.  “You’re silly!” he scowled in a gravelly voice.  After that, they continued walking down the hallway of shadows in silence.

At the end of this very, very long and high-ceilinged corridor they came to another door – a tall, narrow door – and again the father took the old key from his pocket, and put it into the lock.  And once again, the door opened like butter.  And when it had swung open it revealed yet another long corridor – this one as clean as the last – only, unlike the passageway they had just left behind, this one had a steep and ancient staircase leading up from the opposite end to the attics above.                                                                           

The house in the woods was a very old house, with gables and chimney pots and ill-fitting leaded windows with hand-blown panes cut like diamonds.  Windows – so many windows – all of which rattled and slammed both from the wind outside, and from the howling draughts within that prowled the vast, empty spaces like ravening wolves.

The house had – not counting those chambers and offices that did not count as rooms themselves – forty-four rooms – big and small.  And in each one of these forty-four rooms was a fireplace – plus two fireplaces in the hall and three in the ballroom.  And in even those rooms which did not count as rooms – such as the servant’s hall next to the kitchen or the servants’ bedrooms themselves – there were smaller hearths.  In the servants’ bedrooms, they were not really large enough to combat the winter’s gales, but sufficient to break the chill and for warming a body slightly before climbing into bed.   

The wall-to-wall hearth in the large, vaulted kitchen had long-since been bricked up and in its recess was a combination coal-burning/gas-burning range – powerful enough to heat the water for the house’s needs and to fill all the housemaids’ pitchers four or five times a day.  However, even this giant of an Aga had been rendered redundant with the passage of time;   in the more modern sinks and showers installed to meet the more modern trends, this method of heating water had been supplanted by the more economical and convenient ascots.  And a cooker – a smallish, chrome-plated, arrogant post-modern appliance that cocked its snoot at the ancient range – was used for most of the cooking.   

The family that lived in the house, unlike so many of their generation, were sentimental when it came to both the cavernous kitchen and to the many other rooms that fanned out from it in every direction – rooms (that were not really counted as room) such the pantry and the larder and the bakery and the silver and china vaults, as well as the high narrow chamber where the glassware was kept.  Adjoining the vaults was the Butler’s pantry, a good-sized sitting room-cum-office which had served the house as both a ship’s bridge and its engine room; for if it was those ‘upstairs’ who supposedly ‘ruled’, it was the butler who was the prime minister and who kept the ship of state’s many departments running as smooth as silk. Next to the butler’s pantry, was the office and sitting room of the deputy leader:  the house-keeper.  These latter two rooms had proper fireplaces of their own, as well as small cloakrooms. However, once again, these fireplaces did not count in the inventory as being among the forty-nine proper fireplaces, for these rooms – although the nerve centres of the house – were not really rooms at all.  They were, after all, below stairs. – and although their fireplaces were in every sense proper fireplaces, they did not count among the forty-nine, having been more recent additions.  Besides which, since they had been among the first to have been converted to gas no one ever thought of them as fireplaces, but as gas fires.

On the opposite side of the kitchen from the nerve-centres, was a very long, wide and gloomy corridor which lead to such offices as the scullery and laundry and buttery, and from there to the time capsules of a long-forgotten world: to the butchery and the dairy and to a door leading to the kitchen gardens and greenhouses.  And to the all-important flower-room.

Along this wide, gloomy, ill-lit corridor were sixteen bathrooms, and since all sixteen had been built according to specifications provided by the United States government during the Second World War – when the house had been requisitioned as a rehabilitation centre for wounded American pilots – each of these sixteen bathrooms had a toilet. To the ancient retainers who were still living on the property during the war and who had been re-housed in the tiny labourers’ cottages down by the farm – these bathrooms were both a scandal and an abomination, and they caused them much distress.  As far as they were concerned, these American-style bathrooms reeked of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon – for their architect was a Catholic of Italian descent – and foretold the beginning of end of the world “as we know it.” In short, they were the thin edge of the wedge.

After the war when the family was allowed to reclaim their property, they had asked that these additional bathrooms be removed.  However, somehow – what with one thing and another and the squabbling between the two governments over who would foot the bill – they remained where they stood.  And became repositories for dust and grime and such junk as abandoned rooms are known to attract.  But fortunately, by that time, the ancient retainers were all long-term residents of the churchyard; they didn’t have to suffer this additional humiliation – at least not on this side of the grave.

Such modernisations that had been carried out after the war mainly centred on the replacement of the lead which had for centuries kept the rain from getting in and ruining the fabric of the ancient house. Again there was squabbling amongst the various government ministries, and between the two countries.  More and more squabbling.  More and more bickering.  Seemingly endless squabbling and bickering. For the Americans – who had stripped the roof in order to sell the lead to buy fuel to burn in the fireplaces – vehemently denied any knowledge of the vandalism.  “We will, of course, look into the matter. But according to our records, it never happened.” But when it was pointed out that they had also burned a considerable portion of the panelling, as well as most of the first-editions in the library – a claim that was verified by several of the soldiers who had been a party to the whole affair, the US Government agreed to cover the damages.  However, since the money was eventually re-directed to help pay the interest on the US war loans, not a farthing ever made it to the house.

Not that had mattered much.  For the family was simply happy to have their home back and more or less in one piece. They sold part of the land to pay for the re-sealing of the roof, and still another parcel or two for such modernisations as would make the old building feasible.  They laid on gas fires in the four or five rooms in which they lived, added two extra bathrooms and toilets for such staff as they could afford, and two bathrooms (with adjacent toilets) for themselves.  They also built a small kitchen for everyday use in an old storage room off the scullery, again laying on gas and electricity and all the mod-cons. 

The four or five rooms in which the family now lived were in a small wing on the ground floor to the rear of the house, facing the rose garden.  Or what had been the rose garden before it had been given over to the planting of root vegetables.  The rooms on the first and second floors were kept in good repair for they were graceful and well-proportioned and might one day – or so the family hoped – prove to be useful.   

The third floor and the attics were not used at all, and because of the damages inflicted on the roofs far above, they quickly fell into disrepair. And it was in these dark and abandoned parts of the house that the rooms and passageway offered shelter to such displaced ghosts and spirits as were seeking a place to lay their weary heads.  If only because in such an ancient and crumbling ruin, no one would think to bother them.  

Some years after the war, the main stair case leading to the third floor fell into disrepair and eventually collapsed, leaving only the small back service stairs for access. This back stairwell could be reached through a back hall on the ground floor – the utility passageway that led to the stable yard and smithy and to the maintenance sheds, and from there down the lane to the farm itself.  The one door that led from this hallway out into the stable yard had – for reasons it kept to itself – jammed itself shut and no force on earth could open it.  The principal reason for its behaviour was that it was a selfish and crabbed old door that did not like to be disturbed – besides which, it suffered much from rising damp and the rheumatics, causing its hinges to swell up ‘something awful’.  For more than twenty-five years (not counting the time some village rowdies broke it down for a lark and spray-painted slogans on the William Morris wallpaper in the old morning room) this temperamental oak door had kept itself locked and barred against all intruders.  The family, who were sympathetic to the door, had long-since given up on it; they simply used the French doors in the room that was now serving as their drawing room.

Perhaps they knew – or suspected – that the door had a secret.  Perhaps they knew that its hinges only appeared to be swollen and locked in place.  And perhaps its condition was a message to the family and others of the human race.  After all, hadn’t humans always abused the door – kicking it open and slamming it shut and knocking things against its panels?  Such treatment was all very well when a door was younger and when its paint was fresh, but quite another after so many centuries had passed.  For nobody – not even the most sympathetic member of the family – seemed to care how an old door looked or how it felt.  And since it was far older than they – by at least four hundred years – it felt it had a right to be treated with a certain amount of respect.  And when no one obliged it, it simply shut itself up tight, swelled its ancient timbers, and became immovable.  “Let them that wants to go in and out, find another way. I’ve retired!”  But this was only where human beings were concerned.  For the ghosts of the house it was another matter – for they were the ones who waxed its oak panels and polished its brass knocker and kept its hinges oiled ‘a treat’.

But who were these ghosts that haunted the upper corridors and who scampered and danced whenever the chill winter winds swept through the crumbling rooms up next to the roof?  And where did they come from?

Their names – for, indeed, names they had – were Misther and Missus Knacker.  Now, to the world outside their appearance might have been surprising, for they were small and round, and each of them had two little tiny feet at his and her narrow, tapering bottom end – the end that would have reached the floor had not their tiny feet been encased in stout wooden clogs.  On the under-sole of each clog was a little silver bell – and it was these bells that could be heard twinkling and clicking as the two little Knackers scampered back and forth along the principal passageway of the top-most floor.

But who was the other personage that lived under the rooftop and who clomped and strutted and pranced each day when he took his exercise?

His name was Summer Lightning (otherwise known as ‘Slow’) and he was a horse.  Perhaps the best forgotten chaser in the history of chasers.

Old ‘Slow’ (back before he had acquired his nickname, when both his owners and his trainer called him ‘Fast’) had in his time won no fewer than six Gold Cups (in England and Ireland and France and Scotland) and one Grand National Chase in each of those nations.  He was feted and celebrated from one end of the racing world to the other, and had even had a chocolate bar named in his honour (the ‘Fast Bar’, because it went down so fast that one had to buy a second one just to prove to oneself that one had eaten one).

Then one day, whilst grazing in his paddock and talking things over with his companion donkey (‘named ‘Old Ass-‘ole’), ‘Fast’ felt a disturbance in his intestine.  And not wanting to trouble his lad or the trainer, he said nothing.  For the lad was having troubles of his own, having been jilted by his girlfriend, and the owner had awoken one morning with a phobia of horses.  The upshot was that ‘Fast’ was left alone with his twisted intestines, and nearly died.  It was also the end of his illustrious career, for on every one of his subsequent races he could barely make it over the first fence, and always came in a half-hour after the race itself had finish.  Old ‘Fast’ became a laughing-stock.  His ‘trainer’ – who took to breeding Chihuahuas, because – although fierce – they were smaller and could be stepped on in a pinch – started making fun of the horse and calling him ‘Slow’ to his face.  The lad – who was ultimately blamed for the horse’s new-found lethargy – quite racing and joined his father’s investment bank.  And as for the owner (who was the father of the lad), he lost interest, and ordered the trainer to send the former Gold-Cup winner to ‘the knackers’.

For the two days that followed, all the other horses in the yard, as well as the companion donkeys (who, after all, could always get a good job pulling carts for fat men in Egypt) called the newly rechristened ‘Slow’ every name under the, sun, and from dawn ‘til dusk they jeered at him and abused him with the following chant, “To the knackers, to the knackers, to the knackers for you”.  And the owner, who was a greedy ill-spirited brute with two left feet and a snake for a tongue, searched all round the countryside checking out the best per-pound price for a used-up race horse with no bottle and with not an ounce of fat on his bones.  In the end, all he was offered was one pound three shillings and five-pence three farthings, and that from a knackers somewhere near far-distant York.  But it was too little, too late, and so he ordered the trainer (who in the mean time had taken to swilling gin and wormwood-infused tonic water) to do the knackering himself, and to sell the meat to the Doggie Deluxe Dog Food Company, the hide to the Fashion Deluxe Horse Skin Jacket Company, and the bones to the Bony Deluxe Bone Meal Company.

And all the while, over in the yard, the whole world seemed to be chanting “To the knackers, to the knackers, to the knackers for you.”

Needless to say, there were two tiny individuals who did not appreciate the attention.  It was bad enough that they had been born turnips and had been forced to flee for their lives to avoid being added to a cauldron of soup, but now it appeared that the whole world knew where they were!  But, as old Misther Knacker said to old Missus Knacker on more than one occasion, “If they be wantin’ us so bad, why don’t they come up and get us?” To which Missus Turnip replied, “beats me, Elmer.”

It was about then that the youngest of the Knackers’ fifty-seven children, took it upon himself to investigate the situation.  After all, he was very small – practically the size of a walnut – and he was not afraid of anyone. “Let ‘em just try puttin’ ME in a stew,” he liked to say.  And so he waited until long after dark and snuck down the back stairs and out through a crack in the old door.

Within less than fifteen minutes (for even the fastest of turnips cannot run very fast) he had reached the stable yard.  And there – sure enough – were all the foul-smelling villagers of the county, dancing round a campfire and waving their pitchfork in the air.  And on a high platform over the flames, was ‘Slow’, trembling and shaking and sweating and wondering what on earth he had done to deserve such a fate.

The tiny turnip, who was curious about what was going one (for he had never attended a barbeque before) asked one of the revellers (a baby poisonous mushroom that was hoping to volunteer to poison the noisy throng – for they had kept his mam from sleeping), “What’s Up, Ol’ Toadstool, my friend?”

And the toadstool said, in a voice both cruel and loud, “They’re gonna send him to the knackers!”

To which the turnip replied, point up at the house, “But the Knackers aren’t over here!  They’re up there!”

“You sure?” cried the revellers upon hearing the news.

“Yeah, I’m sure!” trumpeted the baby turnip, “and I’ve got my driver’s licence to prove who I am.”  And he showed it to them. 

“His name is Knacker!” yelled the crowd.

And so it was that the chief among the revellers (a potato named ‘Bismuth’) heard about their mistake.  And not wanting to get in any trouble, he ordered the crowd to extinguish the fire and return to their homes.

Within twelve and half minutes, the yard was deserted, leaving only the baby turnip and the horse who had once been known as Summer Lightning.  And the horse told the tiny Knacker his sad story, and asked, “What is to become of me?”

You see,” he said, “I don’t really want to go to the knacker’s yard.  I don’t want to end up as dog meat or a leather jacket or in a bucket of bone meal.  Please don’t make me go!  If you save me I shall be your friend for life – for unless I’m mistaken – a turnip does not have many friends to call his own.  And I promise you this: even though I am partial to turnips myself, I shall never eat you.”

And with that, the baby turnip jumped up on the horse’s back and gave him the biggest hug in the world.  And he said, “But you misunderstand, my sweet friend!”  We are not the knackers; out name is Knacker, and we live peacefully on top of that big house,”

Needless to say, without even being asked, the old door opened wide and let the horse and the turnip enter the house.  And because in his heart Summer Lightning was still the same athlete he had always been, he leaped up the stairs (taking twelve steps at a time) all the way to the attic.  He found there a home, and in all the years since he has remained in those rooms up under the roof.  Just himself and the Knackers and all of the ghosts.  And because it is such an old house and is falling to bits, no one ever goes up to see how they are.  And because they have the wind and the rain and the winter storms to keep them from getting restive, that suits them just fine.

The little boy lay asleep in his father’s lap, his six-year-old head cradled in the crook of his arm.  He had slept through every word of the story his father had told him, but there was no harm in that.  For deep down inside he had heard every word, and for the rest of his life, whenever the wind did blow through the rafters and shake the old windows, and whenever there was heard a mad scuffling of little feet dancing, and the drumbeat of hooves prancing high above his head, the boy always said to himself – and later to his children and to the children they themselves spawned.  “Up there is where the Knackers live, and the drummer who is drumming is the old Gold Cup winner, himself – none other than brave Summer Lightning – he who’d been lost before he was found.  And saved by the love of a turnip.”   

May 22, 2010

Pissing Into The Wind

The Only True Thing a Man was Born to Do.

If there is one thing a man loves doing above all the other things a man is supposed to love doing above everything else, it is pissing out of doors.  It is the one activity that a male was built to do, it is the one activity that a male is really good at doing, and it goes without saying, it is the one activity that a male really likes to do.  And this means, of course, that it is the one activity that man is prevented from doing by every single one of those so-called moral guardians who have never done it! And having never done it, and most likely having been punished even for thinking about doing it back when they still could have done it, they therefore feel it is their moral obligation to punish everyone else – by running for political office.  And once they have run for political office and have officially become politicians, they can then make it their business to prevent those who have defied the so-called moral guardians and have gone ahead and done it anyway, from ever doing it again. That is why the words and phrases, “pervert” and “wait ‘til your father gets home” and “you are under arrest” and “indecent exposure” were invented.  As well as stiff fines and lengthy prison sentences.

And all because it is the male animal’s one true talent!          

Now don’t get me wrong.  I am not talking about sexual predation.  I’m not talking about flashing in front of the church’s stain glass window on Sunday the minute the choir launches into the abridged version of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’, and I’m not talking about whipping it out in the Mall and watering the begonias in the food court.  And, believe me, the last thing I am advocating is to water your grass in the back garden when your neighbours are holding a barbeque for the vicar (even though, unbeknownst to the neighbours, the vicar does it regularly in the graveyard, right on his late mother-in-law’s headstone.

What I am talking about is the joy of pissing out of doors for the sheer joy of pissing out of doors.  It is as simple as that.

I realise women might have a problem with this, and I can understand their point of view.  After all, pissing out of doors is something they are not designed for.  It is something they do not do very well.  It is something that, when they do do it, they often regret doing.  For very often, when they do do it, they fall over into the puddle they have just made.  But of course, that is when they cannot find a convenient log to squat on, and so they try to squat by simply squatting.  And even when they do find something to support them while they squat, they frequently spray urine all over themselves like a garden hose when you’ve put your finger against the nozzle into order to increase the strength of the spray.  And then they are known to say a bad word.  And forget it when they try to do it standing up, especially if they are wearing their shoes.  Because then, of course, having sprayed all over their shoes, they need about a roll and a half of loo paper, not only to dab themselves and their short and curlies, but also to wipe down their legs.  And then – it goes without saying – they feel they have to curtail the picnic – right at the moment the steaks are perfectly barbequed – in order to run to the mall in the next town to buy a new pair of shoes.  Never mind that they should have thought of going there in the first place – before the picnic even got under way – in order to pee.

In spite of the fact that women are thoroughly incompetent when it comes to pissing out of doors without making a mess, they still managed to get a law passed that permits them to do it.  And in the middle of town.  And in full view of passersby. Of course, according to this law they have to be pregnant, and they can only pee against the rear off-side wheel.  But I ask you, what is there to prevent an otherwise unpregnant woman from merely stuffing an old cushion up her jumper and pissing against any wheel she feels like?  After all, it is not as though a policeman is going to ask her to prove she is pregnant, and it is not as though most women carry around a spare pregnancy test just to prove they really are as pregnant as they say they are.   At least, not without a court order, but by the time one of those is obtained, it will be too late for the woman to funnel the pee she has splashed on to the street back into her bladder.   And as for the off-side business, they only snuck that into the law because there is no woman on earth who can understand the male-invented off-side rule.  And therefore they can plead ignorance.  But just let a man try that!  The whole thing smacks of one of the early suffragettes, who obviously forgot to go to the loo before she chained herself to the railings of the Houses of Parliament.

Which reminds me, what did happen when one of those suffragettes had to go to the toilet?  Did one of the friendly policemen – the one who had been beating her with his night-stick – simply halt his beating, say an apologetic, “Sorry, Madam, will you come this way, Madam,” and escort her into the building and out into the garden where – because of the fact there were no inside lady’s toilets at the time – she peed against the rear off-side wheel of the Prime Minister’s landau?  And afterwards, after she had sullied the upholstery of the landau, as well as her new black dress – for according to the photographs, they all seemed to favour mourning – did she demand to be escorted to the Army & Navy Stores to replace the dress and stockings and shoes she had ruined when she had sullied the upholstery of the landau when she had inadvertently missed the rear off-side wheel?  And after she had been duly escorted to The Army & Navy Stores, was she then returned to the Houses of Parliament, where – after re-chaining herself to the railings and hurling insults at the policeman – the same policeman duly picked up beating her where he’d left off?

But what about those women who snuck off while the policeman was waiting outside the ladies’ changing room in The Army & Navy Stores?  Even though every man on earth knows how long it takes a woman to change her clothes, didn’t it bother him when – after three hours had passed – she still hadn’t returned?  Even if he had been married to the slowest woman on earth – one of those who insisted on having ten dozen microscopic buttons on her bodice and who was obsessed with getting each and every button into its corresponding button hole (even if she had to undo each and every one of them a hundred times and start from the beginning) – wouldn’t he have grown suspicious after a while?  And, if so, wouldn’t he have gone to look in the restaurant, because that is undoubtedly where the woman would have been spending the last three hours – sitting with all the other women who had evaded their friendly policemen, and who had just finished a delightful three course afternoon tea – prior to slipping out the back door?

I once rode across country with a couple acquaintances of the female persuasion, and all it all it was a most enlightening experience.  Whereas usually women don’t talk a lot about their toileting habits, at least not in the presence of men who are not their husbands, these two talked about nothing else.  It seemed that the summer before they had driven across Canada, from the West Coast to the East, and being the rugged, non-nonsense types, they had slept rough during the entire journey – wherever possible avoiding the official campgrounds. It goes without saying that this is not an unusual thing for nature-lovers to do, for as anyone who has ever stayed in official campgrounds at the height of the season can tell you, they can be less peaceful than a pub on one of its monthly ‘Uptown Saturday Night ‘Free Beer’ Striptease Pub Quizzes’.  

Up to a point I enjoyed hearing about the women’s experiences.  But then they got on to the subject of relieving themselves. And after they had thoroughly rehashed every single ‘amusing incident’ that had befallen them on each single occasion when they had stopped to spend a penny, they got on to the subject of toilet paper.  Now, like many campers who are fastidious when it comes to the environment, they had originally discussed the logistics of ‘packing it out’ and carrying the soiled paper to one of the approved ‘dump stations. That plan – in the way of all such plans – went awry the first day.  So after that, they decided to do without toilet paper altogether and (as they put it) employ the good, old-fashioned ‘drip dry’ method.  Then, for the next two hours, I was forced to endure the ‘hilarity’ of their ‘summer of the urine-stained knickers’. 

Personally, I don’t like it when males – who tend to be much more scatological than females – get carried away with this sort of idiocy.  And I don’t like it any better when females resort to it either. After all, was that all there was to the holiday?  Hadn’t they passed through some sort of scenery? Hadn’t they seen any wildlife?  Hadn’t they met any interesting people?  Or was all that merely incidental to the main purpose, which was to experience “Shitting In The Woods Like Bears?”  Anyway, after about two hours of becoming increasingly pissed off, I spoiled their good time by finally opening my mouth.  First of all, I made it clear that I was speaking as a man and, therefore, was not exactly conversant with their problems when it came to peeing in the woods, to which they immediately got huffy and replied that – such being the case – I should shut up and mind my own business.  Well, I ignored that remark, and carried on.  I said that even though I was a miserable man and – therefore – a boor when it came to women in general, I happened to be a fairly experienced camper. I also pointed out that – since men were known to shit at least as often as women (and sometimes more often seeing as how they were gross and depraved) – men also had to deal with defecating in the woods.  And furthermore, when it came to clean ing up, we faced the same problems – except perhaps more so because we had hairier arses.  And without pausing for a breath – because I knew if I let them get a word in edgeways, I would never hear the end of it – I asked why, since they happened to have a car with them, they hadn’t just brought along a bucket?  And also a small shovel or some sort?  And also a few containers of water?  At this point, the driver said something not needing my input. But of course, being in full rant, I ignored her – simply to drive my message home. I suggested – for future reference – that a bucket was a handy place to squat when they had a pee.  And since they were already going to sully the forest floor with their urine, it was an easy matter simply to empty the bucket.  Then, I suggested that they could take the water they had been carrying in their car, and with that water they could wash themselves off.  And after washing themselves off, they could rinse out the bucket.  One of them tried to interrupt me by asking about the times they didn’t happen to have a car with them, to which I replied, “That’s bullshit and you know it! You never go anywhere without your bloody car. You even drive your car into your garage to pick up your other car!” And then they got all stroppy about using leaves to dry themselves off, and about how they always ended up using the wrong leaves – the ones that gave them rashes.  And that was when I opened my mouth one too many times and mentioned buying a guide book for local flora.  At which they said yelled, “All men were alike,” to which I retaliated, “At least a man pisses; we wouldn’t be caught dead wee-ing or tinkling.”

Interestingly enough, I never saw them after that, and they even stopped sending me their tie-dye greeting cards for Christmas.   

But back to the unbridled joy of men pissing in the great outdoors.  Unlike women, who seem to like to urinate in packs, men – at least when indoors – tend to treat it as a solitary exercise.  For example, when standing at a urinal when there is another man standing beside them, they cover themselves and look straight ahead.  Setting aside accepted etiquette, it is a territorial thing. A man urinating is a vulnerable man.

However, get a man outdoors, and man reverts to a more primitive state.  Whereas in a restaurant, two or three men sitting at the same table would never even think about going to the toilet at the same time – which is what women seem to do.  However, get them outside and at the edge of the car park, and they will have a grand old group piss-out.  And (excepting in certain cultures where it is taboo for a man to look at another man’s private parts) it is pretty much universal.  In fact, pissing in the great outdoors seemed to be one of the few activities during which even sworn enemies can call a truce.

In every single country in which I have lived (except for those dominated by Islam) I have seen men – young and old and in between – celebrating this one particular moment together.  No matter whether it’s on the side of a road or on a mountain top or on the edge of a cliff, the scenery is always better if it’s enjoyed while in the company of fellow pissers.

It goes without saying that pissing out of doors can be a risky business.  First of all, right at the point of no-return, when there is no chance of turning it off, the wind is bound to change.  And if you are in a group – all standing in a line in the usual way for you never piss in a circle, all facing inwards – and the wind resorts to the sort cheap whiplash joke it saves for such occasions, you’ll find that all men who have always pissed like men in the great outdoors, can all turn together, as if by some secret signal.  So clever are they that it’s only when the wind double-crosses them that they end up pissing on their neighbour’s breeks.

I know quite a few men who – given the choice – will always piss outdoors.  Even when they are at their own house. Perhaps it’s a throwback to bygone days when we used to mark our territory.  Who knows?  It makes sense to me.

Several years ago, I found myself staying at a small, disused hill farm in the mountains. Close to the shack in which I lived there was a family of foxes.  At the time, I was reading a book by Farley Mowat – Never Cry Wolf – in which the protagonist (I believe based on Mowat himself), decided to see how well the wolves would respect the territory he himself would establish by using his own urine trail.  And so, I decided, why not try it myself.  And so I did.  With the same results.  After encircling my little home with a trail of piss, I went inside and waited and watched.  Sure enough, the next morning, I found that the male fox had marked his territory just outside mine. I was ecstatic!  And I felt that, for once in my life, I had actually done something that mattered, and which was in tune with what nature had intended.

But back to pissing outdoors in more mundane surroundings.  It goes without saying, the minute you get caught out when you are walking alone along a completely deserted road – without a vehicle in sight – the second you open your flies and start to spray the countryside, there will be, not only one car coming from one direction, but ten cars coming from both directions.  And they will all pass each other right at the point at which you’re standing.  It never fails.  Of course, you could always turn around and salute the passengers, but I really would not recommend it.  Because at least four of the cars are bound to have little children riding in the back, the parents of which will inevitably be city dwellers that will look upon any man with open flies as a sex offender – no matter that he happens to be innocently pissing at the time his flies were open.  In this day and age, it is better to play it safe than to see your name placed on the sex-offenders list for pissing in front of a child.

Ah… but pissing into the wind and in the middle of a gale: that is when a clown like me feels most alive. And when I also happen to be standing on a cliff facing out to a north Atlantic sea, I am as close to heaven as I am ever likely to be.  And what about splashing?  What about splashing?  I am standing in a bloody gale, aren’t I!  Or as they say, “Innit!”

May 21, 2010

Idiot’s Delight

Lost friends and lovers who were there just because they were there.

His name was not Montague. He has been dead for a great many years and all those who knew him are long gone as well.  Who knows why I think about him now and again?  I don’t know.  It’s not that he and I were ever lovers.  But even so I remember him far better, and with far more detail that I remember any of those with whom I did actually share my bed at the time.  In fact, I don’t even remember most of their names – which probably shows how seriously I take my entertainments.  Do I even recall what their faces looked like, or what their bodies looked like, or even whether there was anything special about the parts of their bodies that I had so enthusiastically fondled?   Where have they gone, those ghosts of the flats and rooms in Cadogan Gardens and Kinnerton Street, and Gloucester Road and Courtfield Road, as well as all those other streets and crescents and terraces in which my willy ran rampant, but in which I never ever fell in love?  I simply cannot conjure up a single one.  Not even the better parts of the very best of them.  I don’t recall what cafes or restaurants we frequented, or the clubs or the new boutiques that were springing up along the King’s Road.  For I was not a Carnaby Street sort of person.  We were Mary Quant and Biba – back when Biba was a tiny shop, and long before it grew into its present megalith in what was in those far-off days, Derry & Tom’s, on the Kensington High Street.  There was another new boutique on the King’s Road – Queen – but, unlike most of the others, I still can picture it and remember its founder’s name.  Glenda.  Glenda SomethingorOther. Glenda, who – or so I was told by a mutual friend, Leon – fancied me enough to go to bed with me, but she wasn’t going to wait for me forever.  At least that’s what Leon said.  He also made it clear that she was getting fed up, because I wasn’t taking the hint.  And although I seem to recall that she was tall and dark and, of course, had hair like Mary Quant’s, it didn’t occur to me to test out Leon’s theory. Why should I?  Although I didn’t say so at the time, it was really Leon I fancied; not her.  In fact, I was – if not exactly drooling – desperately hoping that Leon would go to bed with me. He was more to my taste than Glenda (but he never took my hint, either).  What I realise now was, although it may have been at the end of the swinging sixties and in the middle of the sexual revolution, homosexuality was not something one talked about.  I never knew there were such creatures as openly gay people.  As far as I was concerned, I was straight.  We were all straight, no matter what else we did.     

Around about the time of Leon and Glenda and the many others who were floating in and out of my radar, Leon and I and a couple of others were sharing a flat on the Cromwell Road, more or less across from what was then the West London Air Terminal – the bus terminal from which one caught coaches to Heathrow Airport.  For Gatwick, then as now, one caught a train at Victoria Station.  But nobody in my crowd would ever think of flying out of Gatwick, any more than they would flying by BEA.  Any more than one would move far enough to the west of Gloucester Road so that one’s telephone exchange drifted over to the dark side.  In other words: FRObisher.  FREmantle was as far west as any one us ever went.  And as far as Chelsea was concerned, no one ever lived in the wilderness beyond the point where one turned south to Cheney Walk.  Distant World’s End was no man’s land, well past the end of civilised man.  Only swamp creatures lived there.  And rats.

I don’t really know how I met Leon and Glenda and that crowd.  I suppose as young people have always done, we simply drift together.  None of us were Beetles fans, but we all partied with the Rolling Stones and with the wonderful Marianne Faithful, who now lives in Ireland and sings the songs of Brecht and  Weill in a raspy, lived-in voice – like no one else since Lotte Lenya.  At the time I knew her (and I didn’t know her well), she was recording albums and playing Irina in The Three Sisters at the Royal Court Theatre.  Or perhaps it was Ophelia.  I can’t remember which.  I only remember her as being very lovely and very special and that her face always wore a wistful expression.  I believe her father taught some subject or other at the London School of Economics and that her mother was Austrian – or something like that – but that her parents were separated.  Something not as usual then as it is now. 

Leon never did show any interest in me, and neither did one of our other flatmates – the one who used to answer the door naked and with an erection in case the caller happened to be his girlfriend.  And although I don’t remember this flatmate’s name or even his face, I do remember his penis, but mostly because it was circumcised and I was – at the time – more attracted to the other kind.  But you have to remember that in the days before Princess Diana, circumcision was the way to go if you were middle-class or upwardly mobile. It was something that – if not universal – was taken for granted. 

We had another on-again/off-again flatmate, whose name was Nicky.  Nicky was incredibly cute with one of those perfectly proportioned bodies that are a gift from God, and which he certainly hadn’t earned himself.  And he had a face to go with it.  I seem to remember at the time he was sleeping with most of the girls in our crowd,  but no one was ever jealous of Nicky, for he was gentle and he was kind and he never took himself seriously, and he had a great sense of fun.  I cannot for the life of me recall what Nicky did for a living.  I rather think Leon did something or other in the city, for I remember him leaving every morning in a suit. And the same holds with the other flatmate as well – the one with the circumcised penis but with nothing else to remember him by. But Nicky?  I have no idea.  You see, none of us ever talked about our work or our plans for the future, or even anything to do with our pasts.  Of course, it had everything to do with all of us having at least a certain amount of money.  Plus the fact that the late sixties and early seventies were, indeed, a ‘different country’.  And for our little group – and for groups like us – such ‘inconveniences’ as social upheaval and student rioting and endless strikes were not even a blip on our radar.  In other words, we were straight out of one of Evelyn Waugh’s novels.

Most nights, all of us slept in the same bed, an enormous affair that stretched from one side of the bedroom to the other. Way over on one side, right next to the window, there would be the nameless flatmate with his girlfriend, making love all night every night without uttering a single sound.  Not even a moan or a squeak.  I used to wonder how they did it, and I also wondered if they actually enjoyed it.  It certainly went on long enough (the phrase ‘forever and ever’ often passed through my mind), but there was scarcely even any movement on their side of the bed.  The only thing I could think of was that neither of them knew much about what they were doing, for although we were in the middle of sexual revolution, as far as I know there no such things as a sex education class.  Mostly one talked to one’s own doctor, but I don’t think most doctors knew much about orgasms or how to achieve them.  They would simply hum and haw and give you a little pamphlet. However, everyone seemed to be doing ‘it’, but the ‘it’ they were doing was pretty much hit and miss.

That was also about the time when LSD was easily had, and everybody knew someone who knew   how to get it.  And, even more importantly, everyone – at least in our crowd – was very careful where they got it, trusting no one but their regular source (which was probably the first person they saw on the street that didn’t look like ‘the fuzz’). Nobody ever took it alone.  I never knew anyone who ever had a really bad trip, which only shows how lucky we were.

Now, I have always been on the outside of things and never really part of a crowd.  And lucky for me I have never been interested enough in drugs to actually find out how and where to obtain them.  For if truth be told, that whole scene bored me.  It was all foreplay, followed by a letdown – very much a case of “Is That All There Is?”  Where some things are concerned, it is better to be bored than dead.

However, in this case, the purveyor was none other than the black-suited, nameless flatmate.  The one with the circumcised penis.   

I do remember one night, and it was obviously on a Saturday, because no one in the flat had to be up early the next day for work.  All of us – Leon and Nicky and the nameless flatmate and I – together with all the riffraff that routinely crashed on the floor – took our tabs and settled in to wait for something to happen.  On the top of the television set was a sculpture formed by the intertwining chrome-plated bumpers of three cars.  We called it ‘George’ – for, after all, it was like a member of our household and (unlike that one flatmate) had to have a name.  Eventually, of course, we all got stoned; we turned up the music and at least pretended to act like stoned people act (although – to tell the truth – all of our trips together were depressingly boring and middle class, as befits a group of sons and daughters of mothers who made jams for the Women’s Institute).  At about two in the morning, ‘it’ happened.  For no particular reason except perhaps it was the only object of interest in the room, everyone started to concentrate on ‘George’.  And we concentrated and chanted and concentrated some more and, all of a sudden, ‘George’ apparently became offended by our laughing at him.  For he fell apart and collapsed into several chrome-plated segments on the floor.  And we could never put him together again.  We had killed him! Anyway, that was that as far as the trip was concerned. As so, of course, we all piled on to the one enormous wall-to-wall bed in the  bedroom, where the nameless flatmate immediately and without preamble launched into one of his all-night-long sexual ‘encounters’ with his girlfriend.  And the two girls next to Nicky – who obviously did  know a thing or two about orgasms – proceeded to do things to him which made him produce a great many very loud noises indeed, and which resulted in his leaping from the bed, clutching himself desperately, and making a mad dash for the loo.

Six months or so later I took a mews flat in Kinnerton Street, Belgravia, in a remarkable old Mews house that is sadly no longer there (it was just a few steps away from what was then the smallest pub in London).  For a short while, Nicky moved in with me and  into my wobbly narrow bed.  And for a time we did very nice things together.  But then, as with all things, he moved on and I moved on, and the next time I saw him was a few years later in Piccadilly Circus, in front of Boots the Chemist. He was still as beautiful as ever, but he had grown out of his youthfulness and was now a handsome young man.  And what is more, he had a young woman beside him.  He introduced her as his fiancé and it was obvious they were very much in love.  In other words, Nicky had grown up and moved on.

Somewhere along the line, I did have one or two more encounters (neither of them sexual) with Glenda, and both of them in tandem with her mother.  One was for Glyndebourne, and the other for the racing at Royal Ascot.  In both cases I was asked to be their escort, and since the mother was footing the bill, and since the Ascot meeting included passes to the Royal Enclosure, plus hotel and meals and free everything, I said, “Yes!” Besides, I had the clothes.

  Glyndebourne was, of course, wonderful and relaxing.  Glenda’s mother had ordered our hampers from Fortnum’s, and so our picnics were a delight.  Royal Ascot, however, was another matter. 

Glenda’s mother had booked seats on the special train, and had checked all her luggage with the conductor before we boarded.  Unfortunately, the special train to Ascot – then as now – is a somewhat crowded affair, and it is not uncommon for luggage to be lost.

Well, we arrived on schedule, but there was no sign of Glenda’s mother’s hat boxes.  And you see, she had brought enough hats for two changes a day for the entire week.  One of her suitcases did arrive, but the others – along with the hat boxes and the lovely bespoke hats nestled within them, were never seen again.  Believe me, it was a miserable week. I spent so much time with the mother prowling around Windsor and trying to find a couple of extra decent-looking hats for her to wear, that I missed all the racing – even the Gold Cup!  And the mother was so devastated that she spent all the rest of her time in the bar getting drunk. And Glenda deserted us and went back to London in a huff.  I always wondered if any of those striking miners and rioting students ever spared a thought for the misery that I was going through! 

It was also around about this time that I met Montague.  I was working at a small film studio in London doing continuity and acting as general dog’s body for some awful horror flic.  One day, when I was eating lunch in my small office-cum-storeroom (the ‘lunch’, by the way, consisted of rare roast beef, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and the only cabbage I’ve ever eaten which can be called ‘orgasmic’ – the producer of the film may have been  lousy producer, but he was an amazing cook and always made us lunch – as a way to make up for the niggardly salaries we were being paid) when a very elegant elderly gentleman with a goatee peered in a me and  asked  if I would like to share his bottle of wine (a very fine claret from, I believe Lynch Bages).  Needless to say, I said, “Yes!”  And thus began quite a strange and wonderful friendship.

At the time, Montague was working on some television production or other which was in another sound stage around the corner.  He had seen me around and since at the time I was always well-dressed and well-mannered, he thought he would like to get to know me better.  And so he invited me to lunch at his tiny little house south of the Thames.  It became a standing invitation that lasted for about three years.

At the time, Montague was seventy-two; I was twenty-two and only recently down from university – from which I had qualified in nothing at all.  In the roaring twenties he had been a playboy dilettante and nightclub singer in France – both in Paris and – during the season – on the Cote d’Azur.    When the Wall Street crash came in 1929, he – like most of the expats – found that their meagre talents were not wanted.  So he returned to London, only to find that his father and mother – who had previously been living in a large house in St. John’s Wood, were now living in that part of London known as Brixton. Theirs was a tiny house, but into it they managed to squeeze everything of value that they had managed to salvage.

By the time that I met him, his parents were long-since dead, but he had remained in the house and had kept it like a time-capsule. Not in honour of his father and mother, but because – even though it was small and in a tumbledown part of the city,  the cramped, airless rooms held memories of elegance and beauty that – in the world outside those four walls – had largely disappeared.  The chandeliers were still lit by gas, he still bathed in a copper tub in front of the coal-fired kitchen range, and on every wall were the exotic rain forests and animals of William Morris.  And having myself grown up surrounded by William Morris, I felt very much at home.

After several weeks of swapping tales and getting to know each other, Montague mentioned that he was in the throes of writing his memoirs.  Would I like to work with him as a sometime ghost-writer-come-commentator?  And, if so, would I be free to live in Paris for six or eight months.  To which, of course, I said, “Yes!”  I believe we left the next week.

Now, the whole of our little collaboration deserves an episode of its own, but let us just say that it was glorious fun.  And not only because he was a delightful human-being, but that he himself had never grown up, and enjoyed anything and everything that came his way.

When Montague had been strutting around in his white tie and tails in the twenties, so too had a very very remarkable assortment of people, many of which were still very much alive. And that is why we were in Paris.  Among those in my new ‘circle’ were Man Ray, Dali, Josephine Baker, Jean Renoir, Ionesco (who I later was lucky enough to work with), Jean Wiener and, of course, the amazing Stephane Grappelli (who, incidentally, made the best marinara I have ever tasted).  There were, of course, many others, many of whom – being extremely French about the whole business of aging – had taken to their beds and entertained us from the midst of dozens of faded, hand-painted cushions.

During our stay, Montague and I rented a couple of rooms on top of a brothel on the rue Houdon.  However, since that delirious place became so much a part of my life for so many months and had so much character of its own, it too shall be given a later hearing. For now, let me just say that ‘Madame’ – who was eternally encased in corsets and rustling black bombazine – was the most outrageously respectable woman I have ever encountered in the course of a life of encountering outrageously respectable women.  Every inch of her considerable bulk fairly quivered with respectability. In other words, she was a born Concierge.  And it is also worth noting that, right across the street from the house was a girl’s school.

I loved every bit of that year!

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